Once again I recently walked out of a tea/coffee shop without making a purchase because every single table was occupied by individuals with computers using the business as their personal office space.
I just wanted to sit for half an hour and enjoy a cuppa and maybe a snack, depending on what the food options were. Since this was a new-to-me-establishment, I had not yet had a chance to check out the menu. I didn’t bother. I won’t go back.
I understand that some people don’t have a convenient place they can work, write, or do homework. I know there are others who find the environment of a busy coffee shop inspiring. I understand that some businesses don’t want to alienate “customers” by setting a time limit on how long they can hog a table.
And, if they mostly rely on takeout customers who grab a cuppa and run off, it may be a viable business plan.
But, how many potential customers like me are driven away each day because the tables are monopolized by those who purchase one beverage and stay for hours upon hours? How much money is the establishment losing to those who allow it to pay their overhead and provide them a free place to work? (And, no, even a $5 cup of coffee is not appropriate “rent” on table space for more than half an hour.)
In reality, these people do have other options: the public library, student facilities, their own damned bedrooms, a corner of the sofa in their living room, their hotel room when they’re traveling. I’ve worked, written, and done homework in them all.
Whatever excuses given for the “need” to work in coffee shops, the reality is those who do so are parasites. The business pays for the electricity that powers their laptop and their phones, the rent on the space they’re occupying, the water they use in the restroom. The establishment purchased the table they pile their books/reference material on, the chair their ass occupies and the one they put their backpack on to prevent anyone else from sitting at “their” table.
All the shop owners get in exchange is the sale of one measly cup of coffee and maybe, if they’re lucky, a sandwich.
Why has this become an acceptable practice?
I will not pretend I have never written words in a coffee shop. (And, I did write a story in which the character did so regularly, but that was fiction.) I occasionally attend write-ins to socialize with other authors and write in tandem for a few hours. But these are rare events and I always try to purchase more than one item. We’re also half a dozen writers occupying six seats not one writer monopolizing two or more. And, when I can, I encourage the scheduling of them at hours when business is slow and no one else would be using the space.
The particular day mentioned at the beginning of this post, the shop was our last stop. We went home and Patrick made me a pot of tea and heated up some coffee for himself. I worked on my computer while enjoying my rooibos, in the space I own, where I pay the bills, at a desk I bought, sitting in a chair I purchased. But, I put fewer dollars out into the community and perhaps missed an opportunity to try a tea I’ve never tasted before. Plus, a business that has been on my I-want-to-check-it-out list lost its spot without an opportunity to win me as a regular customer.