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Table Hogs and Coffee House Etiquette

So I'm curious what others do when they come into a Peet's or Starbucks, no seats, lots of empty chairs at tables occupied by one person, usually on a computer, often with no food or drink, and often with their bags, coats, etc. occupying the remaining chairs. When I lived in Seattle, the etiquette was pretty clear: if there were no seats, you moved your stuff and invited the stranger with the clueless look clutching her coffee to have a chair. On the East Coast, I've been looked at as though I'm a two-headed pariah when I have politely asked to use an empty chair. I now don't ask: I smile and sit down at the empty chair and open my book. This week I encountered the weirdest yet. My friend, who is elderly and uses a cane, went to a table marked "for handicapped guests" which had four chairs, one of which was occupied by a young man who appeared to be ablebodied and his computer. The second chair was occupied by his coat. I was meeting her and she asked, politely, if he would mind if she occupied a chair and she would be joined by a friend. He said "no, I'm sorry, but I'm busy and I don't want to listen to anyone chattering." She was stunned. When I arrived she explained there was no place to sit and suggested we leave. She then told me the story. I asked why she didn't ask staff to intervene, particularly since he was occupying a table marked "for handicapped guests." Being the lady she is, she said she didn't think it was worth a scene. I frankly would have made one. What is appropriate here? Should management be prepared to intervene? Are an increasing number of people being raised by wolves?

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  1. Someone should have just sat down, ether your friend, your or management. The reason why people act so horribly is often simply because others allow them to. Someone who doesn't want to listen to someone "chatter" in a cafe is an idiot and should be told as much.

    This morning on the subway I saw an elderly woman stand while the man in front of her had a bag on the empty seat next to him. He should have moved it, of course. But I also wanted to yell "say something!" to her. Being assertive is a good thing, people.

    6 Replies
    1. re: LeoLioness

      Right? His Highness forgot he was in a public place. What a jerk.

      1. re: LeoLioness

        You could have gone over, asked him to move the bag and then offered "your" seat to the elderly woman.

        1. re: LeoLioness

          Sorry LeoLioness, while I agree with your evaluation of the clod as an idiot you have blamed the victim! There are many very good reasons one may choose not to be assertive. The problem is with the jerk and to some degree with the management for not enforcing the seating restriction. Bring it to the attention of the clueless manager and if need be walking him into the situation seems to be the option I would have taken, at very least. Disgusting jerk; they walk among us!

          1. re: Bacchus101

            I think "victim" is a pretty strong (and oft overused) word.

            I don't understand why this woman thought she needed this man's permission to sit in the first place? There were 4 chairs, one occupied by him and one by a coat. This means even if he didn't move his coat, there were two chairs for two additional customers. Is my math wrong?

            Perhaps this woman and I have different ideas about what constitutes "a scene".

            1. re: LeoLioness

              Again you are making the women the problem! Could she have done the things you suggested? Well perhaps she could have and perhaps it is not something in her nature to do. Politeness, courtesy, shyness, timidness, fear of conflict, any or all. She is not the problem by suggesting she is you are letting the other of the hook! Blame the woman, she should have done this or should not have done that! She is the innocent and injured(offended) party.

              1. re: Edwardrae

                Okay, that's your opinion. I still think it's silly to call her a "victim". What's next, she's a victim if she doesn't get a re-fill on her water glass and is too "polite" to ask the waiter?

                I'm familiar with the concept of victim blaming. This isn't it.

        2. I would have told the guy off AND told the manager. I belong to a knitting group that meets on a week night at a small Starbucks. It has one large table and several small ones, plus a row of armchairs. Often when we start arriving, the large one is being used by a single person with a computer. We'll start out at a small table, moving to the larger one if it becomes vacant. If the squatter is still there when the group is too large for the other tables, we ask him (it's always a male) if he'd mind moving. They always oblige.

          2 Replies
          1. re: greygarious

            Perhaps it's the way you wield those knitting needles that convinces 'em!

            1. re: ricepad

              Actually, although I'm "bistitchual", I leave my knitting at home rather than chancing having the needle slip out and messing up my work, so I'm the group's token crochet "hooker". One of the members, in response to a joking verbal jab, will frown and warn "I have sharp sticks!".

          2. Oh that is a pet peeve of mine! Can't they choose a Starbucks that can accommodate them? It isn't like there is a shortage. I overheard a conversation at a non chain coffee house that they refuse to provide wifi just for that reason. I also noticed they sealed off the light sockets that were there when the previous coffee house was there. Apparently they prefer their customers not to camp out.

            1 Reply
            1. re: free sample addict aka Tracy L

              I order another cup of their cheapest coffee and it accidentally spills all over their computer. Oops.

            2. I've seen people SLEEPING on the couch in a coffee shop. It's a balancing act for some places where they want the business and to get the business they portray the place as somewhere you can hang in all day. It's the customers who are socially inept. I would have just pulled up a chair and, when challenged by the person sitting there would have shown even more social ineptness when I would jump down his throat.

              1 Reply
              1. re: bobbert

                I love my friend and I get her point: the ill-bred and entitled among us shouldn't be allowed to make us behave like them and she doubted there was any lesson she could teach a mid-twenties man who had no manners that would change his perspective. I would have asked the manager to intervene and I think it's a 50 - 50 chance whether he or she would have. Since the table was marked as reserved for handicapped patrons I like to think management would at least be willing to enforce that. I'm definitely more assertive: an empty chair at an occupied table is fair game for me if there isn't another option. I'll ask but it's a rhetorical question: absent a scene I'll sit.

              2. You don't have to be in a wheel chair to be a cripple. If he has attention deficit disorder, the last thing he needs is chatter and other people distracting him. Being around other people may be part of his therapy.

                It is a big world. The amount of personal space one needs to feel comfortable varies greatly. Let alone table requirements.

                5 Replies
                1. re: INDIANRIVERFL

                  Thanks for your opinion, IndianRiverFL. It is a perfect illustration of the perverse logic used to justify bad behavior and a reason we see this type thing frequently! Ugh

                    1. re: INDIANRIVERFL

                      Wait what? So maybe he is there to be around people for his therapy at the same time the last thing he needs is chatter? Makes no sense. Maybe in some bizarre universe of be seen and not heard therapy.

                      1. re: INDIANRIVERFL

                        Then he can go to the library and use his computer there. Quiet and lots of people. Done and done.

                        He was a jerk.

                        1. re: INDIANRIVERFL

                          Unless this was a table off in a quiet corner, I'm not sure your argument holds up. The chatter invades most corners of a coffee house.

                        2. I'm sorry; even if that young man indeed had a not-visible handicap, his answer was dismissive and rude. "Chattering?" Really? Get thee to a library, bucko.

                          Management can and should be prepared to intervene in a case like that.

                          I'm an East Coaster...in the college town coffeehouse world, I've never had a problem joining a four-top occupied by just one person; I think I've been blessed in that way based on what I'm hearing on this thread. And I wouldn't have a problem if someone joined me. This happened just last Tuesday when someone asked to share my two-top because it was near an outlet. He was quiet and respectful, as was I.

                          BTW...if people were raised by wolves, they'd be less randomly cruel than people raised by people, probably. :-)

                            1. It seems the Northeast seems to have an inordinate amount of rude people vs. nice people. I live in the NE, but travel to different parts of the country. I have found that most of the country is nice and friendly. The only times I run into rudeness outside of the NE is from a transplanted person from the NE.

                              Now understand that most of the people in the NE are nice, but there are far too many people here that feel some sense of being better than everyone around them.

                              As far as management getting involved, forget it. Most retail managers are happy to hide in their office or backroom and avoid any confrontation.

                              My suggestion, if the situation arises in the future, is sit down, say hello with a big smile and go about your business like the other person is not even there. If they don't like it, they can move to another table. As far as the person sleeping on the couch, I'm sure a tipped over chair would quickly wake them.

                              4 Replies
                              1. re: awm922

                                thats a pretty broad statement and geographical area. How do you define the northeast?

                                I've been all over this country as well and run into nice and rude folks, all walks of life. Just like the area of the country I live in now.

                                if a stereotype is needed, it might just be some percentage of the customer base at chain coffee shops. or an age group or profession? men more than women?

                                it is more prevalent in chains then non-chains?
                                business hours over weekends?

                                I think its the same group of people that NEVER give up their seats to those that need them more.

                                1. re: awm922

                                  I have heard that said about NJ/NY'ers in the past. I think what is perceived as rude is impatience. I've found that things seem to move very s-l-o-w-l-y in other parts of the country, so I admit I get impatient. YMMV.

                                  Anyway, if your friend felt uncomfortable then you did the right thing by not making a scene. But if I overheard that guy's response, I would have said something to the manager myself.

                                  1. re: Jerseygirl111

                                    I heard a famous chef (I wish I could remember who) in an interview say that he dismissed CH at first because he didn't like the rude and arrogant tone of the posts.

                                    He changed his mind when he moved beyond the NYC boards.

                                    1. re: WNYamateur

                                      New Yorkers tend to be straight forward and genuine. Many people confuse that with "rude."
                                      Don't ask me for an opinion if you really don't want it.

                                2. I own a small strip center with some other relatives. Starbucks wanted to open an outlet here. They were aware of the problem you present.
                                  One thing they did in the layout that has helped is to put the electrical outlets near 2 tops only. That helps keeping table hogs from tying up a large table for hours while the computer is plugged into the wall.
                                  Panera Bread limits table/computer use to 30 minutes during 11am-2pm lunch rush.
                                  Managers don't like to get involved in asking customers to move or share tables. While the table may have been marked for handicapped use, it is not the same as a handicapped parking space which has the law behind it. No one can ticket an able bodied person using the table. Personally, if it was the only empty seat, I'd have just sat down. I might ask the person if they want to move their coat/bag or want them dumped on the floor..........................

                                  1. Two 2 tops pushed together with one one is use? I just separate them about an inch and sit down. A 4 top I wouldn't automatically sit down unless I was planning on doing what the other occupants were doing (or if I planned to be quieter). It does seem a little inconsiderate to plop down and carry on a conversation next to someone who is quietly studying or reading.

                                    However, I would think that if you are too busy to listen to chatter you need to either wear headphones or go somewhere quiet. And if you are sitting solo at a table set aside for handicapped guests either suck it up or offer to move to another table.

                                    I would have asked the manager to assist, and then if they wouldn't/couldn't I would leave and tell them why.

                                    4 Replies
                                    1. re: viperlush

                                      < It does seem a little inconsiderate to plop down and carry on a conversation next to someone who is quietly studying or reading. >

                                      I respectfully disagree. If a person chooses to study, read, or work in a public area, there is no expectation of quiet, unless it's a library. Using cell phones in restaurants is considered rude because people inevitably raise their voices; similarly, tables occupied by loud, raucously-behaving patrons will often be asked by management to tone it down. Would you be on the side of a lone diner in a restaurant, with a book, who objected to the couple at the next table having a normal conversation?

                                      1. re: greygarious

                                        We are talking about the same table, not the one next to. And a coffee shop, not a sit down restaurant.

                                        1. re: viperlush

                                          I'm confused - why would you assume two ladies conversing would be an intrusion in a public space? If you need quiet and concentration, I'd suggest the library or your home, not a coffee house. There are many times I'd be grateful for not being next to someone on a cell phone or for having no music or tv intruding on my quiet, but I've gone to a public space and unless folks are being weirdly rowdy I don't feel I get to inhabit the whole place and all the chairs for my one cup of coffee.

                                        2. re: greygarious

                                          Mr. Viper Lush:

                                          I think you had a nice, measured response, which reflects the fact that "life is complicated".

                                          I think the OP's scenario is easy ... the table was marked "for h'capped guests", the OP's associate had obvious mobility issues, the singleton was overconsuming space entitled to, he was rude.

                                          But again, life is complicated. The response "you are in a public place" is obviously too glib ... I too was thinking about all the bitching about cell phones ... or there are also the controversies over children in restos, dogs at park etc. Those conversations dont end with "well you are in a public place ... anything goes."

                                          I think many impossible-to-anticipate details matter and "blame" is not a zero sum ... this fellow the OPs describes may have been entitled to some quiet but wasnt entitled to be rude ... I've been the person working in a cafe, and when the someone asked to share a table, I made room for them but was a bit annoyed when they later had two friends join them and not only were they loud, but I hardly had space for my stuff. I kinda seethed and put up with the "chatter" but in another case where someone kept banging the table, I asked them to stop, as I was writing [with a pen, not on kbd] ... rather that taking a stand on rights, i'd look at the golden rule/categorial imperative/kaldor-hicks efficiency ... whatever.

                                          On the other hand, on another occasion, the table sharers were NOT ACTUALLY CUSTOMERS ... they were waiting for a table at a resto up the street! I was flabbergasted that they didnt order anything to drink or even a cookie while waiting. You you already knew they were barbarians so I was particularly annoyed I had to put up with their pre-prandial yapping. [for SF people: This was at RITUAL ROASTERS on a cold day ... they were waiting for their table at DOSA]. So do these people have "fewer rights" than a real patron?

                                          The fact is, most people are barbarians ... even in liberal San Francisco/Berkeley. I joke that Tartine and Cheeseboard are examples of the failure of communism in action ... you simply cannot rely on "from each according to his ability/to each accord to his need etc" ... like at Tartine, clean up your damn table before you leave ... I do not want to sit in your powedered sugar, and I dont know if you blew your nose in that napkin, and I dont want to bus your water glass, but will always bus mine. At Cheeseboard, DO return the damn cheese/pepper/green sauce container to the central location after you are done with them, and DONT send someone in your party to hold a table when you have another 10min in line before you get your food ... you are not clever, you are cheating/rude (see "Knee Defender").

                                          On a lighter note: I did once ask a singleton sitting at a 4 top at Ritual if she minded splitting the table. I am pretty sure she reflexively glanced over her shoulder to see if the cafe was fullish or this was a pickup swoop (it was full). That turned into a 4hr conversation and we ended up going out for ~1yr (and she has no memory of the glance to see if the cafe was full) ... but "chatter" != sociability ... a reasonable person picks up on social cues and has an awareness of the social context.

                                          ok tnx.

                                      2. One of my friends permitted a stranger to take the empty seat at his table in a crowded coffee shop and ended up dated the person for a year and a half. You never know where a little common courtesy might lead.

                                        2 Replies
                                        1. re: cookie monster

                                          One of the potential benefits of extending a courtesy. Good point!

                                          1. re: cookie monster

                                            Three years ago, I shared a table at a busy cafe with a woman who couldn't find anywhere else to sit. We've been best friends ever since! Every time we pass that cafe, we thank it for the lucky chance it presented.

                                          2. This Brooklyn boy can be pretty militant when it comes to this stuff. Someone's coat/bag does not need a seat and it's obvious that person is staking out a claim.
                                            If a place is busy I'll ask politely if they can move their stuff. If that's a problem I'll ask if I should toss it on the floor or in their lap, smiling all the time. That works.
                                            FYI: I am a senior and formerly handicapped.

                                            1. Yet another instance that calls for cropdusting.

                                              3 Replies
                                                1. re: ricepad

                                                  "cropdusting" - Not being the most mature person at times, and considering my circle of friends...cropdusting does NOT involve aircraft! Is that what you meant?

                                                2. The technical term is "laptop hobo."

                                                  1. I guess I'm in the minority here. If you went to a restaurant that doesn't take reservations but all the tables were occupied, would you expect to take an empty seat and join strangers at their table, even if it's someone alone?

                                                    It's first-come, first-served on tables. Coffee shops encourage hanging out (to be clear, I don't have a laptop and generally the only time I stop at coffee shops is when I am out and on the go, so I don't typically sit down and stay). I understand if there's a table time limit, but honestly, if I was trying to read a magazine article while I had my coffee and the only thing available was a four-top, I sure as heck wouldn't want two or three other people sitting down with me. And I have more than once met someone for an informal job interview in a coffee shop. A stranger sitting down with us would be very rude and weird.

                                                    If coffee shops were meant to encourage table sharing, I would think the tables would be constructed to be more "communal dining" style, not a series of two-tops and 4-tops. I think it's haughty to assume that if there is an open seat, you should be allowed to have it even if someone else is using the table.

                                                    Maybe it's a regionally cultural thing. I'm in the Midwest and I have never, ever seen or heard of that kind of thing.

                                                    17 Replies
                                                    1. re: rockandroller1

                                                      As someone who visits coffee shops several times a week I'd have to say there's a completely different etiquette than in a place that is primarily a restaurant. This ranges from ordering (yes, you should order something before hanging out for an hour) to sharing tables when all are taken.
                                                      First, one must ask "is this seat taken?"
                                                      If the seat is not taken, the appropriate response is "no, please have a seat (possibly adding) and let me move these things to the side".
                                                      See, easy.
                                                      As the intruder, you are obligated to scan the place first to see where you're likely to be the least intrusive. If I'm alone,i'll look for tables where there's a single so we can easily mutually ignore each other. If there's a couple at a table and one is crying, I'll usually pass by that one.
                                                      It's not rocket science but there are some slightly different "rules" for coffee shops that most of us should be able to figure out.

                                                      1. re: bobbert

                                                        I undestand the procedure, I disagree with the fact that this is considered "the right thing" to do. I think that depends a lot on the culture where you live. Maybe in very busy urban places, it's the norm, and thus "rude" to hog the table alone. I live in a barely mid-sized city in the Midwest, and as I said, it would be considered very, very weird here. I've never seen it done or heard of it being done.

                                                        I just don't believe it is a nationally accepted standard nor normal Emily Post style etiquette. It may have evolved to standard etiquette in certain parts of the country AND big urban areas because of the critical mass of people, but I would think this varies widely depending on the city and size.

                                                        1. re: rockandroller1

                                                          I'll buy that reasoning. Urban areas and college towns probably much different than more rural places.

                                                          1. re: rockandroller1

                                                            I'm intrigued by the notion that there are different protocols based on location. Would you really sit at a table for four designated for handicapped guests all by yourself and not offer a seat to an elderly woman using a cane when all other seats were filled? I've travelled extensively in the MidWest and found people generous and attentive to others. So I find it hard to believe you think in your neck of the woods your right to your privacy trumps what seems like ordinary civility.

                                                            1. re: teezeetoo

                                                              Aside from the last 9mo, I have spent my entire 30 years in the midwest and I can say that in my experience it would be unlikely that someone wouldn't provide a seat for a handicapped guest at a handicapped table.

                                                              I also have experienced in numerous places, people allowing others to share a table with them. I wouldn't find it strange for someone to ask if they could share a table with me. I find people on the east coast are much more likely to just sit down, while in the midwest people are more likely to ask if it is okay.

                                                              However, I have never experienced or observed a group of people (i.e. more than 1 person) ask to sit down at a table occupied by 1 person they do not know. Typically people will ask to sit at your table if they are doing similar activities, i.e. if someone was working on their laptop, reading a book, etc, people would only inquire to take a seat at the table if they were doing a similar 'quiet' activity. I've never had two people sit down at my table with the primary intent to just chit-chat. Usually if I were working/reading in a coffeeshop, the vast majority of patrons were doing the same, so it was the culture of the establishment to be rather quiet. Even if a group were to come in, sit at their own table, and be more noisy than others it might draw the ire of other people already there.

                                                              Regarding going to a library, while I was writing my dissertation, I can say with certainty that most of the coffeeshops I would go to were much quieter than the public library. I remember being incredibly surprised at how loud and ill-mannered people are at the library. I found independent coffee shops and the cafe at barnes and nobles to be much more of a quiet, focused place to work.

                                                              1. re: pollymerase

                                                                "Regarding going to a library, while I was writing my dissertation, I can say with certainty that most of the coffeeshops I would go to were much quieter than the public library. I remember being incredibly surprised at how loud and ill-mannered people are at the library.
                                                                I have worked at a public library for, well, a long time. In general public libraries, esp. in large cities, are community spaces and are not ever going to be as quiet as college libraries. We have people of all ages and welcome people that would not usually be found in a coffee house (homeless or poor/old people without the price of a coffee, teenagers, children) and a fair number of people who are just kind of nutty or lonely.
                                                                The scene is lot livelier in a public library than people who don't go there know.

                                                                1. re: ratgirlagogo

                                                                  >The scene is lot livelier in a public library than people
                                                                  >who don't go there know.
                                                                  well i think it varies by location ... even in the same city.

                                                                  for those in San Francisco ... the new Potrero Hill lib just seems to be a DVD rental facility now ... while I've seen quite a few psychologically damaged persons need to be managed at the Excelsior branch ... like you hear them screaming in the bathrooms as the staff tries to throw them out.

                                                                  1. re: ratgirlagogo

                                                                    Libraries have evolved and most librarians I know want chatter and conversation and such in the libraries. But most libraries seem also to have quiet rooms. And in my experience, those have indeed been quiet.

                                                                    1. re: debbiel

                                                                      "But most libraries seem also to have quiet rooms."

                                                                      I imagine this must be true in many places. But most public libraries in NYC don't have quiet rooms.

                                                                2. re: teezeetoo

                                                                  There's a difference between rude to elderly and infirm and what's being talked about on general principal which is just that all the tables are taken adn there's nowhere to sit so you expect to sit with a stranger. That being said, I rode the bus and train to work for years here and was often the ONLY person to get up and offer my seat to elderly and infirm, and when I was pregnant I rode all 9 months and was often left standing while nobody offered to get up. So your experiences in the Midwest while traveling may not be the same as living here.

                                                                  Also, I am friendlier to strangers than many other people, and like talking to strangers (who may not be strangers later). If I am not on a job interview or engrossed in reading, I would probably offer, especially if someone was looking around like they wanted a place to sit (infirm or not), and have, even in non-communal dining type places and can't recall anyone taking me up on it the few times I have offered.

                                                                  It's not about what I think my "rights" are. It's not the normal cultural expectation here.

                                                                3. re: rockandroller1

                                                                  Odd. I live in the Midwest, too. Population ~120,000 maybe? I ask if I can join at a table; I offer my table for others. Never been a problem.

                                                              2. re: rockandroller1

                                                                I'm with you in the minority. No tables means no tables to me, whether I'm in Starbucks or McDonald's or a chain restaurant or a five-star one. I would generally assess that situation before purchasing or make the decision to take it to go. I think it's fine to ask if you can share a table in a busy casual place, but I don't think it's rude for a person to politely decline if they are working. Sometimes I want to read or work too, and someone else at the table would be a distraction, even if they were quiet. The guy may been rude to deny a seat to an elderly woman with a visible disability, but the fact that she was an elderly woman with a disability doesn't really seem to be a factor in a lot of these answers. It seems that most people think the table is fair game, and that he doesn't have a right to sit alone. Personally, I think all the responses from people saying they'd sit down anyway are just as rude, if not ruder. She asked, and he declined. There are a million reasons why this guy may need to work at a Starbucks and not elsewhere - two jobs or classes and a job with only a half hour between comes to mind. And those who say he should get to a library - I hope they still exist, but in my parts the library is not a quiet place anymore. You can, however, sign up for one of the 'quiet rooms', for an hour at a time, if there is one available. And of course the library doesn't open until 10am, so there's that. In any case, I think there's an issue with this attitude that my needing a seat takes precedence over your needing privacy. There's an impoliteness on both sides of this issue.

                                                                1. re: 16crab

                                                                  I must respectfully disagree with you on multiple accounts. 1) IMHO when a single person occupies a table for 4, even if it's the only table available, if he or she is working and occupying the table for longer than it normally takes to drink a coffee, and if the place is busy, good manners dictate that or she should move to a smaller table when one becomes available...or graciously share the table if so requested.
                                                                  2) IMHO it is more than just rude, but pretty uncivilized for an able bodied person to occupy a table specifically designated for handicapped persons and to refuse to relinquish or even share it with a clearly disabled person.
                                                                  3) IMHO although we all know that many persons work or study for extended periods of time in coffee shops, and this has become accepted, we should all realize that these are restaurants whose profits depend upon turnover. Sure occupying a table for longer than it takes to have your coffee and pastry is fine when the shop isn't packed, but at peak times it is inconsiderate to do so, and even worse to be unwilling to share a table.

                                                                  1. re: josephnl

                                                                    I agree with all of those points and would like to add that if one chooses to work in a public place then there should be no expectations of no interruptions, distractions, noise or other people's conversations. If you need a quiet private place to work, then do it at your own home or office.

                                                                    1. re: pamf

                                                                      And I respectfully disagree with your respectfully disagreeing with me. We have no idea how long the guy was there for or what the circumstances were that made him need however long he needed to do what he was doing. I agree that he doesn't have an expectation of complete silence, but I do think he has a right to sit alone if he wishes.

                                                                      Is it self-centered to take up a table designated for people with disabilities and refuse to give a seat to a person with a visible disability? Absolutely. I myself would have given up my table or offered to share it. But the thread has taken on the attitude that people should counter rudeness with more rudeness. I wish the OP's friend had pointed out to him that it was designated for people with disabilities. Perhaps he didn't notice, or perhaps he has one himself. I think it's important to acknowledge that this is a secondhand account of someone who didn't hear the original conversation, the tone, etc. There's a lot of moving parts to this story, and no one has even given consideration that although the guy appears to have been jerky about it, we have no idea of what his story is or how it actually went down. The fact that it's a coffee shop seems to make it ok not to respect a person's wish to sit alone - but if it were a two-top in a bar and he were eating a meal or even just having a drink, there would be no expectation that he should share his table if it were the last one.

                                                                      1. re: 16crab

                                                                        My reply rightly or wrongly assumes that the story told by the op is accurate. Nevertheless, we clearly disagree and that's ok. My dad would have said "That's why we have Democrats and Republicans!"

                                                                        1. re: josephnl

                                                                          I might assume that too, if the OP had been there. But she is relaying what her friend relayed to her. Should I ever find myself in a situation where the OP, or someone like her, just sits down with me without asking, as she says she would, I will relay my firsthand account of what I think of those manners!

                                                              3. Rudeness seems so prevalent these days.

                                                                Or, perhaps not.

                                                                When I was young, I used to rant about rude old people - the ones who never say "please" or "thank you"; the ones who would queue jump in shops or the post office. I used to think it must be somethng that came with age.

                                                                Now I'm older and, indeed, of the generation I ranted about, I realise that I was wrong. These rude people havnt just become rude when they got old - they've always been rude.

                                                                1. I truly cannot imagine going into a place of business -- because that's what a coffee house is -- and turning a table into my own private office. Just how much would I need to spend per hour to make that a fair exchange? And if I'm sitting at a table reserved for the handicapped and don't invite those folks to at the very least share the table? The nearest able-bodied person should pick me up by the shirt collar and throw me out the door, like in an old Western.

                                                                  1 Reply
                                                                  1. re: escondido123

                                                                    >I truly cannot imagine going into a place of business ...
                                                                    >and turning a table into my own private office.

                                                                    You used strong words, so I will too:
                                                                    that's nonsense/straw man.

                                                                    Using a laptop etc. is an obvious and visible matter and if the *owner of the business* doesnt like it, they can intervene in an appropriate matter, including:
                                                                    --no laptop policy
                                                                    --not having wifi, or only giving limited wifi [no an issue those those who have their own cellular modems]
                                                                    --having a max time per table
                                                                    --having a sign/informal policy of singletons not taking up 4tops [some places have communal tables or little "laptop ledges"

                                                                    so a cafe which does not change their policy after some time has implicitly condoned this.

                                                                    sure, it's possible some patrons abuse this and it is "triicky" for a business owner to do anything there other than wish they would go away .. but guess what, i've gotten crappy drinks/pastries from some baristas and i suck it up eventhough i wish it life had unfolded differently.

                                                                    now i have come across people having long business meeting by cell/skype phone in cafe, and i do find that annoying but the business nature of this was incidental ... it was the "footprint" of the behavior which was inappropriately large, not the content.

                                                                    [and cafes in some neighborhood are clearly going to know ahead of time what they are in for in terms of laptop users ... just as much as a cafe in a college town will get students ... and i'm not sure what difference it makes if the student is working on his computer or reading Othello ... are they turning a business in to their private library/den?

                                                                    Again, abuse is possible, but as i wrote above "life is complicated" and it's not reasonable to castigate all laptop users. The poacher of the handicapped table is not a "morally complicated" case ... the question there is not one of right/wrong, but "how to deal with it".

                                                                  2. Share the table. I actually love a coffee house with really, really large tables that are clearly shared tables.

                                                                    I do so hope that Starbucks is not actually still using the word handicapped, a good two decades after it was considered acceptable.

                                                                    3 Replies
                                                                    1. re: debbiel

                                                                      When we visited friends in Colorado Springs they took us to Pike's Perk, which had big tables, couches, and big comfy chairs. They had a kids play area and shelves with books and board games. Clearly a place that encourages hanging out and getting to know your fellow coffee addicts! :) it was lovely - wish we had one near our home.

                                                                      1. re: jujuthomas

                                                                        I live in the PNW.......that pretty much describes most of our coffee houses :)

                                                                        Disability friendly areas aside, I really think regionalism matters in these kinds of etiquette questions.

                                                                        1. re: sedimental

                                                                          This was definitely a suburban coffee shop vibe... that kind of atmosphere would never work near my office in center city Philly. :)

                                                                    2. We have become a rude society because we no longer stand up to the incivility of others. This enables them to continue their rude behavior. We can make a difference when we decide to take each situation and turn it into a teaching moment and yes it can be done very firmly and politely. The more of us who do this, the better our community will become. I hope you have the courage to join me.

                                                                      4 Replies
                                                                      1. re: CarolynGrace

                                                                        Considering this was 8 months ago, I don't think the OP needs courage so much as a time machine. But, if they have one, I'm in!

                                                                          1. re: Hobbert

                                                                            I find this to be timeless advice, whether 8 months ago or now.

                                                                          2. re: CarolynGrace

                                                                            I agree with you. My dad used to say "The donkey has grown its tail" ...it's a translation from Italian, meaning "this person's parents didn't nip the bad manners, in the bud, so good luck changing him/her"...but in the OP situation, who cares if the Fragile Flower changed, or learned a lesson or not? We all just wanted that lady to have a place to sit.

                                                                          3. In answer to your final question: why insult the wolves? They're apparently being raised by clueless, self-centered humans who pass those traits on to their offspring.

                                                                            1 Reply
                                                                            1. I think many of these problems can be solved with better interior design.

                                                                              For instance if tables-for-four are often being monopolized by solo diners, perhaps two-tops would be more appropriate.

                                                                              One interesting solution I see is a long narrow bar-height table, facing a wall, with power strips. It is clearly meant for coffee-house "workers" and not groups coming for a cup and socialization.

                                                                              I think it is up to the owner/manager to observe the clientele and make necessary adjustments.