I was just down at a new coffeeshop that opened in my small Seattle neighborhood, and it was quiet--too quiet: As I heard from Sean Savage about 18 months ago, and wrote about in a New York Times article about cafés that were pulling the plug on Wi-Fi at times, his researched showed that coffeeshops can be classified as "office," "social," or a hybrid. To quote myself, "...an office cafe discouraged conversation and was filled with people who came alone and were focused on their work. Social cafes have customers who arrive in groups. 'If you come into a place like that and it's a particularly busy time, you get dirty looks if you open a laptop and start zoning out,' Mr. Savage said."
Fuel, the café I was in today with my 2-year-old son, has a branch up on Capitol Hill; this is their second outlet. According to a mom I met at our nearby library who lives near the first Fuel, it's habituated by people of all ages, and is a hangout for neighborhood parents, toddlers, and older kids. This new outlet isn't kid unfriendly--it's not hostile. But it's a bit hipster and dark.
It's also optimized for laptops. Lots of outlets, and many two-person tables. When I walked in this afternoon, it wasn't deathly quiet, but it was a bit still, even with the pleasantly low-level music playing. I counted about five laptops when I walked in, four of which seemed to be filled with programming, including two side-by-side extreme programmers. Another one or two showed up before I left.
As a neighborhood cafe, they're likely to want to create the warm, social environment that produces lots of regulars, but the office environment isn't likely to foster that. It's possible that reorganizing the place slightly to encourage or suggest laptop users are in spot and more social users elsewhere could change the dynamic, but I think it's something that all café owners are wrestling with.