Mickey Sheehan

Nowhere to sit

Why shouldn't Bangkok coffee shops get tough?

I'm in a Starbucks on Sukhumwit Road. I'm carrying an iced latte in one hand and I've got an overpriced banana and walnut muffin in the other. Now I'm simply looking for somewhere to sit.

I can't sit at the table in the window because there are four 'executive types' conducting a meeting. Judging by the half inch of liquid in each of their drinks, I'm guessing they've been there quite some time.

I can't plonk my butt at the next table (another table for four) because someone has reserved it with what looks like a pencil case. Hold on, there's quite a nice table for two in the corner but unfortunately one of the seats is occupied by a hipster beavering away on his laptop. There's no sign of a drink anywhere. It's basically a guy renting free office space. And being very British about the whole thing, I don't want to disturb him and ask if the seat opposite is free.

We've all been in this situation haven't we? Drink and food already purchased - but nowhere to bloody sit.

A storm in a coffee cup

Thailand's social media network rather came alive last week with the story of a Thailand coffee shop chain that has decided to do something drastic about customers who 'outstay their welcome' 

Bon Cafe, a chain with many outlets around the city, handed a group of four coffee drinkers a bill that included a 2,000 baht 'open food' surcharge. Over the course of two hours, the group of four had ordered only six drinks between them and were clearly using the cafe as a makeshift boardroom in which to discuss business. The bill for their purchased drinks came to just 260 baht.

Apparently Bon Cafe has a notice on each table that states customers will have to pay an open food charge of 1,000 baht an hour, if they occupy space for business purposes. As you would expect, no one in the group of four businesspeople saw the notice (perhaps none of them were wearing their reading glasses) and flatly refused to pay the bill. Finally, they went on to Facebook and had a hissy fit.

By way of response, a Bon Cafe spokesman said that the customers were not made to pay the open food charge. In fact, no customer ever has. The notice is put on each table as some sort of 'subtle discouragement'

When I first read the story for myself. I stopped just short of standing up at my computer table and applauding. Whilst I do think Bon Cafe's open food rule is a business practice poorly executed, I totally understand the logic behind it. It certainly gets a hearty Bravo! and two thumbs up from me.

The age of integrity?

Of course, what we have with this coffee shop situation is a system that relies on people's honesty and integrity. And I think we live in an age where both of those characteristics are in very short supply.

I love to sit in a coffee shop, sip on a hot cappuccino and fiddle around with my smartphone. But I instinctively know when it's either time to leave or to purchase another drink. It's a shame that others just don't seem to get it.

We see the same kind of situation in hotel lobbies. There might be several free computers for hotel guests to use and there is often a discreet sign that says something along the lines of 'please limit your usage time to fifteen minutes so other guests can enjoy this free service'

But for the teenager who's been Facebooking for at least an hour while his parents sit on a nearby sofa supping gin and tonics, the rules - for some reason - don't seem to apply to them.

And all you can do is sit in a corner and quietly seethe. 

Someone's sitting there

When I go back to England for my annual family visit, there is a nice pub in the neighborhood that shows Premier League football matches on a large screen. The pub can get pretty crowded on big match days so it's important to get there early and secure your seat or even just a standing position from where you can best view the action.

I've been in this pub several times down the years and there's always one guy - just one guy - who arrives at least an hour before kick off in order to reserve the three front row seats for himself and his two pals.

And I've watched him (along with dozens of others watching him) nurse a single glass of Coke until well into the first half of the game. His two pals will usually turn up late and reluctanctly order a couple of soft drinks. If they could sit there with nothing in front of them, I'm sure they would.

I stand there and lose count the number of times someone asks selfish guy if 'those two seats are free'. 

Nothing astounds me quite like other people's selfishness and lack of integrity. I guess it has much to do with the way you were brought up.

I've sometimes thought to myself - 'well if you can't beat them, then join them'. But I can't do it. It's just not in my nature. The moment I instinctively feel that I'm taking up space that other people want (and probably have far more right to) I'm up out of that seat and away.  

But going back to Bon Cafe coffee shop, for those who feel that occupying a seat for hours on end, ordering just one drink and poncing off the air-con is justifiable behaviour, we have an expression for it in English - and that expression is 'taking the piss'.




While the idea is that people are being selfish and a creating a Tragedy of the Commons, in fact a coffee shop is not the commons. Challenging people on your own (without the manager to back you up) for strangers to move along? You've got no right, this is private property. Trying to discourage meetings (which are obviously common, since some kind of policy needed to be invented) is the very right of the business owner.

The big mistake was the 1,000 THB per hour which, apparently "no one has ever paid". This is where the real madness lies. Most places do in fact have a common "rate of consumption" for their places in busy times. One drink per hour (or equivalent) is normal. The problem came when a group of cheapies who didn't want to pay the normal accepted "rate" meets a corporation with a ridiculous price on public space. From this you get people taking sides and social media spillage. Just be reasonable (both sides) and this doesn't happen.

But for me, the only reasons to go to these low quality, high priced coffee shops is to use the space for something. Either I'm waiting or meeting someone, and it is a handy place to do so. In fact, the rent on that table and chair really does come out of the ridiculous profit margin that low quality coffee beans and questionable dairy can afford.

If you want good coffee and a place to sit, home is as good as any, and better than most. If one want's overpriced coffee and a crowded spot with limited seating, my friend you have found your home.

By Jeff McNeill, Chiang Mai (28th October 2015)

"And all you can do is sit in a corner and quietly seethe. "

No, that's what cowards do. If you have paid for your food and beverage and you see somebody on their laptop with nothing purchased, go over and challenge them.
"Cowards die a thousand deaths."

By GrowaPair, Chonburi (21st July 2015)

I agree with Bon Cafe's idea and their soft enforcement policy. Many years ago, fast food restaurants in the US got the idea to make their chairs uncomfortable. The chairs sort of bite the backs of your knees so, when you've finished your food, it's time to move on. I tend to forego any "business meeting" that is to be held in a coffee shop, bar or hotel lobby. It just screams "unprofitable" and "dead-end". Plus, I simply hate crowds and the joker at the next table eavesdropping.

By James, Bangkok (20th July 2015)

Well, sorry folks, but Starbucks isn't going to change their modus operandi for a few mealy mouthed complainers who don't understand business. Massive plate glass windows showing off execs slurping their way through office brunches are good for business. A few college girls huddled round a latte and fifty sachets of brown sugar comparing skin cream products doesn't hurt either!

All of these coffee shops sell their products to go. That's 95% of their sales. They want you to go inside, buy a coffee and bugger off. The best way to do that is to look full/busy/enticing.

Having comfy chairs and free WiFi isn't just there for you, you fools. It's for people OUTSIDE who walk past the shop and stop in to buy something to TAKE AWAY.

Would you go to a coffee stand set up by Somchai on Sukhumvit and spend the same amount for the same cup of coffee? No, you wouldn't. Would you go into a deserted shop and buy anything at all? I'd certainly think twice!

Starbucks does a great job of catering to pretentious fools with more money than sense. If you are seriously nailed because your table by the window isn't free then it's time to do what everyone else does...

Buy that horrible watery bean juice TO GO!

By Mark Newman, Thailand (17th July 2015)

Sitting for hours in a coffee shop or other such place knowing that others want to use it is selfish, there's no way around it. At that point one isn't going there to enjoy coffee, but has has been pointed out to leech wifi for hours on end or holding meetings.

From the shop's point of view they do exist to, you know, sell drinks. I've seen it far too often what the author describes. To be fair I'm also astounded when kids walk into McD's n sit around bullshitting and soaking up some air-con while buying jack shit.

I ascribe this to Thais not having a very good concept of what's considered good for the commons, after all one need only look at how filthy the city is to see that the average person just doesn't give a good go damn about anything in public (except their own appearance of course). This isn't to say that we don't have some folks bumming around in the states, but I do see it less often. Typically that behavior is found at coffee shops on college campuses, and even then is usually kids doing schoolwork (which I've NEVER seen Thai students doing at a coffee shop).

By Aaron, Bangkok (15th July 2015)

The first time Phil posted this, I kind of thought the cafe was in the wrong. I still think they are for the way they went about it, but not for their aim. After all, the reasons I don't go to coffee shops in Bangkok are twofold, and never having seats is the number 2 reason. Number one is that nowhere has regular iced coffee like you can get in America.

By Mike, Bangkok (15th July 2015)

"What is wrong with having a meeting at a Starbucks or coffee shop? What is wrong with someone going to the pub and only ordering 1 drink?"

You've misunderstood it Ron.
Nothing wrong with going to a pub and ordering one drink. Nothing wrong with having a meeting in Starbucks.
Everything wrong with making that drink last several hours purely so you can use the business premises.

By philip, Samut Prakarn (15th July 2015)

What is wrong with having a meeting at a Starbucks or coffee shop? What is wrong with someone going to the pub and only ordering 1 drink? Does it require someone to be an alcoholic to enjoy this game at said pub? Sounds like people just love to complain.

By Ron, BKK (15th July 2015)

Here we have Mr. Newman defending freeloaders. Why? Because it is the opposite of the author's point of view. How dare any of us be annoyed by rude behavior!

By Law n Order, Rangsit (15th July 2015)

"Selfish behavior is usually annoying to selfish people. Someone is sitting at a table that YOU want or someone is hogging the power outlet at the airport that YOU need!"

Sorry mate but you've completely lost me there. Selfish people are annoying to those of us who follow the rules (be they written or unwritten) because without rules, where would we be?

"Do you count the number of items in the basket of people waiting at the express check out line?"

Oh, absolutely. Because this is a system implemented by supermarkets for those of us who only want to purchase a few items and not have to wait half our lives behind someone with a teetering pile of nappies and noodles. There is usually a great big sign stating 'ten items or less' as well (although I think it should be 'ten items or fewer' if we're splitting grammatical hairs)

In fact to take it a step further, I think people who use the express lane to purchase over 10 items should
a) Be made to explain their thought process over the p.a system.
b) Have to stand on a podium for 30 minutes for every other shopper to see whilst wearing a cardboard sign that says "I tried to cheat the system"

By philip, Samut Prakarn (15th July 2015)

Selfish behavior is usually annoying to selfish people. Someone is sitting at a table that YOU want or someone is hogging the power outlet at the airport that YOU need!

Mind you, there's nothing wrong with being selfish. It's an overly maligned personality trait! Thing is, these niggles about the way some other people behave shouldn't be so consuming. It's not that big of a deal is it? Do you count the number of items in the basket of people waiting at the express check out line?

It's a sign of the times when kids reserve a favorite table in a coffee shop with a back pack then bugger off shopping. They just don't breath the same air as old folk do. I don't think that four businessmen hogging a table at Starbucks really see their behavior is 'selfish' at all.

Some people are quick to take offence or get their noses put out of joint far too easily.

Oh, David... embarrassing people who don't behave the way you want them to, won't change their behavior. You'd be better off buying Sky and watching the footy at home.

By Mark Newman, Thailand (15th July 2015)

There's nothing more annoying than space-dwelling freeloaders and cheapskates. It's selfishness and 'kin-yow' in the extreme. More than once I've walked into a Starbuck's in BKK where many tightwads nurse a drink and proceed to camp out for the next hour or two. In one shopping mall, university students would go and deposit their bags on tables to make them appear occupied, then go off shopping in the mall elsewhere. I waste no time in tossing their bags on to the floor so I can enjoy my coffee as a paying customer. A similar situation arises on the night of a big football match; 3 or 4 locals will turn up to a pub and order 1 drink each. I encourage shaming such people. Embarrassment is the only way they will change their behavior.

By David, BKK (15th July 2015)

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