I’m addicted to Starbucks. I know that sounds cliché and that a lot of people have a coffee/caffeine addiction, but I’m not really addicted to coffee, I’m addicted to Starbucks. I love the Starbucks cafes, with their jazzy music and strange sandwiches. It’s a nice place to spend some time with a friend, or even by yourself. Sometimes I’ll grab a latte and a sandwich and read the newspaper. I like spending time in Starbucks, but I am always mindful not to spend too much time. After all, I’m only one of hundreds of patrons in a day, and everyone needs their Starbucks time. I’m usually out within 30 minutes.
Not everyone is as considerate as I am, and I am overwhelmingly annoyed by the coffee sop “squatters” that order a regular cup of coffee and then pop out the laptop and suck up the free wifi for hours on end. These people take over entire 4-person tables for themselves, with their computer, papers, books and backpacks. They make it hard for other customers to find a seat during peak moments, and they spend nothing, but expect everyone to respect their right to be cheap-ass morons and use the free wifi all day. It’s gotten so bad in many places that coffee shops have had to make “laptop free” zones in the stores to make sure people don’t stay longer than 30 minutes. There are also rules in many coffee shops that if you’re not actually drinking or eating anything, you have to leave. These companies have created these rules because they were losing customers to overcrowded restaurants…overcrowded by coffee shop squatters and their paraphernalia! Unfortunately, they’re not always enforced.
The phenomenon is so much worse in Singapore. In Singapore you have the run of the mill coffee shop squatters as exist everywhere else, but you also have the overachieving students. These students (usually traveling in packs) pick a table in a coffee shop and, basically, squat there for hours and hours after school and on the weekends doing their homework and studying. They rarely buy anything at the stores, and when they do, its a small coffee or a cookie. These people crowd out the true customers who are actually there for food and drink because they are so pervasive that you may find 3-4 groups of these crazy overachievers in one restaurant at any given time. This phenomenon is not only limited to coffee shops, fast-food restaurants, ice cream shops, even sit down restaurants are not immune to the crazy, overachieving, Singaporean students. The worse thing is that, although there are signs everywhere that say table time is limited to 30 minutes and you must be eating or drinking while using the tables, nobody says anything to the students. So, they sit there all afternoon while other customers have to stand in the shop, or take their food/beverage to go, or just walk out without buying anything. This is a horribly pervasive thing in Singapore and it’s actually turning me off to spending time in my favorite place.
I don’t blame the students. they want to work on their homework together, and they may help each other in that way. They have been using restaurants and coffee shops for years without any reprisal. It’s there that the problem lies…the reprisal. There isn’t any. People who work in these places see the poor customers who can’t find a seat and who actually end up eating while standing and they see the gaggle of 10 overachieving students with empty cups sacked out with papers, notebooks and laptops, and they do NOTHING! I have never seen an employee at one of these places actually go over to a freeloading table of students and ask them to leave to let other customers sit down. They just let it happen. Of course the students are going to continue doing the same thing if there’s no consequence. In reality, these kids should be at the library or someone’s house studying, but they have found a better place where nobody bothers them to leave.
It’s the same for the coffee shop squatters in other countries. I have never witnessed any employee of a coffee shop asking one of these freeloading pricks to get up and allow paying customers to sit down. They just let them sit there, empty cup or plate in front of them, using their free wifi. I like having free wifi in restaurants so I can use WhatsApp to speak with my friends, but I’m willing to give it up if it eliminates the freeloading squatters. The students will probably still come because, in all fairness, I do see them actually working with pen and paper and studying. They’re also very respectful if they get too loud and you ask them to be more quiet. But, something still needs to be done. The regular coffee shop customer is losing his ability to enjoy the coffee shop experience because they can’t sit down, and there’s so little space for them because of the people who have nothing better to do than sit in there all day on their laptops or doing their homework. Something has to be done! When I was in university, they had “Take Back the Night.” Granted, this was a program of evening marches to support better police support for women when they were out late at night, but I’m proposing the same concept….”Take Back the Tables,” where people come into these coffee shops and physically remove the freeloaders. Take back your shop, people, before we lose it altogether!!