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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.