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Apr 1, 2013 09:42 AM

Café Plume: Since when it is OK to ask a customer to leave before they finish their food?


I have been a loyal customer of Plume. I recommended it to friends, rave about it on Facebook (just did it 2 hours ago actually). I took a few first dates there, because the place feels familiar and comforting. I go there about once a week, sometimes more often and usually end up having breakfast, lunch and maybe an afternoon tea if I feel lush. My ex used to go there every single day before he moved out of the city, he had a “bar tab.” I like to have a workday there, and never ever once got any attitude about this. People are usually super kind and friendly. Besides, there are many people who are doing the same. I also buy their beans; mostly because I want to reciprocate and fulfill my duties on my side of the moral economy between them and me. I liked the space and staff, hell it has been my favorite coffee shop in town; well until today.

So today I go there. I order a croissant and a latte and sit down to work. I finish my coffee and keep on nibbling on my croissant. About an hour later, a staff member comes in and asks if “I want my croissant to go?” I say WTF, sneaky! I pretend I don’t understand, and state that I am working on it. I really am. Fifteen minutes later, she comes in again and tells me that if I don’t consume I have to give up my table. I am not hungry enough to have lunch, yet and yes I am actually still consuming the food I paid for. I will probably have a sandwich later, but not when they want me. I look around to the sea of laptop jockeys and wonder why I am singled out. She insists that this is not personal and she has to turn tables and there are people waiting. I get upset, leave my half eaten croissant behind and leave, telling her that I have been a loyal customer and this really ruined my day. It is weird politics. On one hand, I understand there is a business to manage; on the other hand, extremely poor taste to ask someone to move who obviously still has food on their plate.

So I write it here, because well I need to rant somewhere; but also am really wondering if I do not get the rules of the coffee shop game even after working in them for many years. Heck, I even wrote about them in the professional context (details of which cannot be disclosed due to anonymity). I mean if you are managing a coffee shop with wifi and lots of laptop outlets, isn’t it the norm to let your customers park and give them some credit that they are not leeching too much? Can you at least let a customer finish their food? That’s all. Thanks for reading.

  1. A full workday? Really? I think that is pushing it a little... Maybe they feel that you have been taking advantage of their space. I think they wanted you to get the picture loudly and clearly. I definitely feel that there is another side to this story.

    4 Replies
    1. re: Gloriaa

      Perhaps the title of the thread is misleading. Rather than, "Since when is it OK to ask a customer to leave before she finishes her food?" perhaps "Since when is it OK to "have a workday" taking up a whole table in someone else's commercial cafe space for $ 7.50, or even $15.00?" should be asked.

      If the answer is an agreed-upon: when it is new, just building a clientele, and not crowded, or it is established and not crowded, then no special rules need to be posted and all customers would know when it was permissible to linger and when it was expected that they move on.

      1. re: KAYLO

        As you noticed, most of the thread is a reaction to a different question from the one the OP was asking.

        1. re: Enkerli

          it seems to me that the OP was, in her words <<ranting>> and wasn't really interested in discovering any coffeehouse rules that didn't allow her to spend the whole day taking up a table for the price of a latte, a croissant, and a sandwich.

          spreading the food items out so that you are ordering a new item every 90 minutes in order to convince yourself that you are doing right by the restaurant, is so silly that it really doesn't deserved a response.

          1. re: westsidegal

            Agreed with many here. A coffee and croissant doesn't entitle one to very much. Certainly not more than an hour.

    2. An hour and fifteen minutes to eat a croissant and you can't sympathize with why they might want to turn the table over? it's their business and you have no right to stay indefinitely. having said that, you can go to second cup next time where they are unlikely to bother you.

      17 Replies
      1. re: catroast

        I don't want to be snarky (unlike you), but obviously you've never been to an indie coffee shop if you apply restaurant turnover times to them. They don't sell coffee or croissants, they sell the space and the atmosphere and the time you spend. And over the years, I can safely say that I paid for the time I spend there in an equitable manner.

        These places are third places where people work/live and it is the norm that they linger. I actually liked that they had no laptop policy during the weekends, but during the week it has been always a home for freelancers, academics and students who want to work away from home.

        1. re: garmonbozia

          Disagreeing with you is not being snarky.

          You were told people were waiting. You were there for 90 minutes and ordered a latte and a croissant--it was time to move on. You can linger at the library.

          1. re: garmonbozia

            I go to an independent coffee shop all the time and I usually leave when it gets crowded and i've been lingering. c'mon - get an office.

            if it is space they are selling then you are robbing them at $4 / hour!

            1. re: garmonbozia

              Just curious to know if these coffee shops know these rules? I have a feeling that they do not want people lingering all day...or maybe now they realize that they cannot afford this practice? Think about it, a table for 2 is occupied by one person for8 hrs and spends 15$, how could anyplace survive with those sales?

              1. re: Gloriaa

                Well a coffee shop usually has three types of customers:

                The laptop campers: They are not the people to make money on, but they are an essential part of the culture and they are loyal
                Social customers: The ones that come for chitcat, and stay for about an hour or less
                Takeout: This is where most of the money comes in.

                It all requires careful orchestration of these three types of customers and all three are subject to different norms. A good manager should understand that. If one wants to just sell coffee with quick turnaround, they can just open a takeout kiosk like the Distributrice or probably remove the laptop outlets (which are about 1 per table in Plume) and cut down the wifi like Myriade does. Or really, establish a transparent rule like 1.5 hrs per customer. Make it explicit and equitable; not idiosyncratic and out of the blue. Do I object to the no laptop rule during the weekend, no? I actually embrace it. And let people finish their food. Otherwise, it is rude.

                I would never camp at Myriade or a more traditional "cafe" like Figaro. Plume is not Myriade, they have always been a laptop coffee shop.

                1. re: garmonbozia

                  Not all regular customers are appreciated. Having worked in many coffee shops we saw our fair share of customers who took advantage of our generosity.

                  1. re: garmonbozia

                    Rules and norms have contexts of application. What is striking, here, is the change in approach to norms and rules. From discussions I’ve had with Plume’s patrons and owners, it sounded like there was an informal norm that extended loitering was expected. The laptop rule brought such norms to the fore: this is a place where people are expected to interact with one another on weekends. I’m quite sure one of the owners explicitly talked about the fact that they were ok with patrons spending a lot of time there, regardless of consumption level. It was very early on, when the place opened.
                    If owners want to implement some changes, they’re obviously allowed to do so. There are several ways to do it which can be quite efficient. Enforcing a new rule on individual patrons is unlikely to work well for them.
                    Having clear, formal, explicit rules can work, but it’s especially tricky in a place like Plume. Since they’ve opened, they’ve established themselves as a specific type of place, with a specific type of clientèle. Other people (not garmonbozia) have told me explicitly that it’s their third place, that they spend a lot of time there, that I’m likely to bump into them when I go, that it’s a neighbourhood headquarter, etc. Any change in norms is likely to be accompanied with a change in clientèle. That can be riskier than owners would realize. Still, it can be done and it’s possible that it’ll have positive effects.
                    Another strategy would be to get regulars on their side by discussing things with them or warning them of coming changes in how the café works. Though it sounds like it’d be more time-consuming than posting a new rule, it can also be surprisingly effective at generating goodwill, a sense of belonging, and new business.
                    Yet another approach would be to progressively institute a new policy by telling individual patrons that, despite what has been going on until now, a new policy is coming into effect and it won’t be ok to stay so long the next time. Stronger, even more time-consuming, and likely to generate some unwanted tension. But potentially effective.
                    The option which was taken, asking a regular to vacate the premises before they finish their food, is probably the most time-consuming and is highly unlikely to be effective. It’s also the one which is most likely to generate resentment on the part of the regular and their friends.

                    Of course, if that one regular patron had been identified as the root cause of a specific problem, it’d be a different issue. Same thing if this specific occasion implied other factors (a patron having inappropriate behaviour). But, from the outside, it sounds like the approach used was misdirected.

                    Which is quite easy to understand, in such a context. But still unfortunate. Regardless of how reasonable a change in norms may be, the way a business deals with those cases can have a domino effect.

                    1. re: Enkerli

                      It's ok to complain, but sometimes you have to put yourself in other's shoes before you judge.

                      I've been on the other end of this quite often: Arriving at a cafe alone or with a friend, and wanting to rest my feet with a nice coffee. Yet, i find all the tables are occupied by laptop squatters who wont be leaving anytime soon. So i have to find another business.

                      Now if i were to open up a business, i'd welcome laptop squatters no problem, so long as they order something and that the place isn't so full that it turns away other customers.

                      It's a business after all, not a charity! from the OP's own admission, the place was full and he/she was there for over an hour with a tiny order. I think the staff tried to approach the OP in a subtle polite matter at first but in the end, their request for him to leave his table was not unreasonable.

                      1. re: SourberryLily

                        Plume’s interesting because, whether they realize it or not (and I’m quite sure they do, based on conversations with them), the three owners have been encouraging the behaviour which got the OP “in trouble”. If another place welcomes laptop squatters with specific conditions, I’m genuinely interested in knowing more about how the policy is implemented. Thing is, Plume is specifically not that place.
                        Plume also isn’t a place where people arrive to rest their feet with a coffee. There are plenty of places like that around Plume, but this café itself («Entre le café et la plume») isn’t it.
                        To be clear: I’m not saying that the request itself was unreasonable (very hard to tell from outside the specific situation). However, my analysis (knowing the place, the owners, and several patrons (including some regulars)) is that this request is unlikely to have the desired effect and is likely to have undesired effects.
                        I’m still puzzled that this would happen at Plume. ArtJava? Sure. Gamba, SHQL, or Saint-Henri? Possible. Lapin pressé, I could see that happen. At Camellia Sinensis, they already have rules in place and they handle these things in a very tactful and effective manner. At Couteau, they usually have enough room to accommodate different behaviours. At Myriade, they specifically make it so that it’s either for takeout or long conversations, not for neither “footrests” nor “laptop squatting”. Of course, such a request is likely to be made at a restaurant (especially in a diner or fastfood place), or in a mainstream sports bar or coffeeshop (La cage au sport or Brûlerie St-Denis). Plume is probably the last place I expect this request to be made.

                      2. re: Enkerli

                        Your point of changing from being a third place, or "laptop squatter" location to a different type of cafe is key. I used to frequent one of these coffee shops for work - which they clealry supported given the options of outlets for computers and such.

                        Then they changed to include a wine bar, and initially relied on the "third place" customers to help with the transition from being in the "coffee shop" to the wine bar. Then as the wine bar began to attract more of the types of customers they wanted initially, they came up with various techniques to heavily indicate to their "third place" clientele that starting around 5pm, they weren't wanted.

                        Business wise, I completely understand what they did as I'm sure it made them more money. But it also resulted in the loss of a number of afternoon "third place" patrons because of how they felt they'd been treated. However, had the push been too soon and the wine bar not really taken off, they would have been left without the desired customers as well as without a number of their long time "third placers".

                        "Third place" cafes do exist, do favor creating long term realtionships with customers that make what happened to the OP sound out of place. Unless there's part of a push to change the business model.

                        1. re: cresyd

                          Perhaps the desired change in business model was to replace "staying customers" with paying customers.....

                          1. re: eat2much

                            You may disparage the staying customer - but for all of the coffee shops I worked in as a teenager, they really were seen as valued customers.

                            The coffee shop I'm speaking about particularly sold no food other than pastries/cookies and was primarily staffed by "baristas", not servers (so no turning tables issues going on). The business decision to dramatically change their physical space and invest in turning half the coffee shop into a wine bar was a risk because it wasn't a neighborhood associated with an early evening bar crowd. So a lot of money was invested in renovated the the place, purchasing wine inventory, and training staff to know anything about wine with no automatic pay off guaranteed.

                            When they first made the conversion, they would heavily target their "third place" customers with a free glass of wine in the early evening or join in on wine tastings (that were initially very reasonably priced, heavy pours). These were the wine bar's first customers, they brought in their friends, and ultimately helped to contribute making it a coffee shop and wine bar (as opposed to a coffee shop that sold wine that no one bought). As they became more established as a wine bar, the initial wine bar staff was replaced by staff who were more educated in wine, prices were raised, free drinks stopped, etc.

                            When I was a student, I started as a "third place" customer - and was part of that "wine bar conversion" crowd which did happen slowly because as a business venture for that neighborhood it definitely wasn't a guarantee. I don't begrudge them switching to a more profitable business model - but I also don't go there anymore because the wine bar staff became less friendly, prices were raised considerably, etc.

                            My point was more that this business had a very obvious switch in business plan that it wanted. But it knew that it wouldn't get there immediately, and relied on their third place customers to help build the crowd they wanted. Once they were done with their early evening crowd helping them out, they got the hint that was no longer a 'third place' option. However, had those hints been dropped before the wine bar started to work - they would have failed to have staying customers as well as paying customers.

                        2. re: Enkerli

                          norms are short for normative. it is what is the reasonable, customary and expected behavior. the cafe did not change the norms. the OP flouted the norms.

                          you see from the posts here the norm. lingerers who leech are not reasonable.

                          1. re: alkapal

                            Based on Enkerli's post - I read that the owners were encouraging the OP's behavior to be the normative behavior. So if anything, the OP was behaving in a manner that previously had been the norm, but now the norms had changed.

                            While many cafes do see lingerers that leech to be unreasonable - there are definitely niche cafes that cater to that crowd.

                        3. re: garmonbozia

                          and it would seem, that even though they are "a laptop cafe" they are interested in limiting the presence of people who appear to be taking advantage of them by staying an inordinate amount of time nursing a pastry and a latte.

                          <<I like to have a workday there>>

                          the restaurant's action was more than fair in my book.

                          being a "laptop cafe" does not necessarily mean that you are, in any way, obligated to provide tremendous amounts of time to any one customer.

                          as for the rant, imho, the customer has already abused the situation.

                          1. re: garmonbozia

                            Interesting thread, but, I find this statement to really be the crux of the matter:
                            "Well a coffee shop usually has three types of customers:

                            The laptop campers: They are not the people to make money on, but they are an essential part of the culture and they are loyal"

                            It seems that you think of yourself as "essential" to this business, although you admit that you contribute little to the business.
                            That says it all, in my book.

                            1. re: garmonbozia

                              I don't think a 'laptop customer' is a profitable customer, in any coffee biz - i am SURE the coffee house put in that many outlets to let the customer they were expecting - perhaps a salesperson out and about who want a coffee and a chance to answer a detailed email (hard on smartphone), and wants to plug in and do that for 1/2 an hour....

                              I am sure NO business plan is built on people coming in and taking a table and working there all day, on a regular basis.

                              Like others have said - get an office - co-share, etc. you aren't paying rent with a croissant and sandwich for your square footage!

                      3. I've known people to hang out with their laptops in coffee shops for an hour, maybe even two once in a while. But all day, on a regular basis? I really don't think this is reasonable.

                        1. What’s strange is the approach to implementing a new policy. Owners have been explicit about their desire to make people feel at home. Early on, they implemented policies on laptop use at certain times. And they’re usually able to talk with people about their approach. In fact, that owner has probably an hour and half talking with a customer about such things as creating a nice atmosphere.
                          There are diverse ways to set people’s expectations. Asking individual patrons to leave after a certain is probably the most inefficient and the most unlikely to contribute to a comfortable atmosphere. Especially with a regular. Regulars don’t warrant special rules but do warrant a thoughtful approach.
                          Of course, those of us who weren’t there at the specific time may not have all the details. Having interacted with the three owners at Plume, I’m especially surprised that something like this happened there.

                          1. I'm on my way to Café Plume, they just got a new customer after reading your post. My biggest pet peeve at coffee shops are these customers that linger hours on end taking up valuable seats. They just sit their reading or playing on their laptops while people who just want to sit and enjoy their coffee for a short time have to stand or take it to go, so rude. I see this all the time at Cafe Myriade on the weekends and it seriously irks me so badly. If it's not busy fine, but you are not sole in this universe if you see it start getting busy be polite and move along for others to sit. "Sit down to work?" Are you serious?

                            3 Replies
                              1. re: JerkPork

                                Have you considered Camellia Sinensis?

                                You probably realize that Plume is one of the cafés where the behaviour you decry is most likely to happen. Myriade has almost no table-hugger, by comparison. Plume does have laptop-free times, but most of the time it’s meant to be laptop-friendly.