Friday 31 October 2014

Seat-hogging students a headache at cafes

Most students oblige when told to move, but some can be difficult, say operators
By Olivia Ho And Samantha Boh, The Straits Times, 30 Oct 2014

WITH exams around the corner, cafes are full of students poring over their books, oblivious to the fact that they are taking up precious seats for other patrons.

And this is causing problems for many cafe owners, who have to deal with students who overstay their welcome and refuse to leave when asked.

At D'Good Cafe in Holland Village, the situation has become so bad that it now bans studying at its premises from noon to 2pm. The cafe can seat about 100, but during exam season, it is nearly always full.

"Most students understand, but some can be quite difficult and become arrogant when we ask them to move," said store manager Gary Esplana, 28.

The problem is shared by independent cafes and major chains alike.

A spokesman for coffee chain Spinelli said: "Seat-hogging does pose a challenge for us. However, most of (the students) understand our constraints and are willing to come back after the cafe's peak period."

Ms Serene Foo, 30, a retail store manager at Spinelli's Velocity outlet, said students usually come in the morning and stay till evening.

She recalled one student who occupied four seats with her laptop, bag and notes.

"During lunch, she left for about two hours and it got very crowded, so I collected her things and brought it into the staff area," said Ms Foo, adding that she later explained her actions to the student, who was fine with it.

At Lorong Mambong cafe T Time at 93 Degrees, barista Lisa Tan, 17, expressed frustration at customers who "order minimum items but stay maximum hours".

"Some days, we close at 11.30pm but the students stay till midnight, so we have to close late," she said.

The issue of seat-hogging by students came under scrutiny this week after a student by the name of Yap Huixin had complained on the Facebook page of Starbucks Singapore.

She said staff there had moved her belongings after she had left her table and belongings unattended for 30 minutes.

That sparked a furore online, with most netizens taking the side of the coffee chain.

Yesterday, when the Straits Times visited several cafes around the island, many of them were filled with students studying for their exams.

Some patrons were clearly annoyed at their behaviour.

Said pharmacist Tan Zhen Yang, 35: "It's frustrating when we can't find seats for lunch in the cafes. We have to go to the next place or take away."

Students themselves too were aware that their presence could be seen as a problem at cafes.

Singapore Chinese Girls Secondary student Yap Jiahui, 16, has known fellow students to hog a table for as long as two hours while they go for tuition.

"It's quite difficult for the staff," she said. "Sometimes the management comes down and the baristas get in trouble for letting people study."

Many students, however, still prefer to study in cafes because they are just more comfortable than other facilities.

"The libraries are full all the time," said SIM management student Duane Hwang, 21. "But I try to avoid peak periods. I was using a small table at McDonald's once and they asked me to leave. I cooperated. I understand that they need it for people to eat there."

Student's complaint over Starbucks staff backfires with netizens criticising her for hogging seat
By Jalelah Abu Baker, The Straits Times, 28 Oct 2014

A public complaint by a student that Starbucks staff put aside books belonging to her and her friends and cleared their drinks after they left the cafe for 30 minutes has backfired.

Netizens have come out strongly in support of the coffee chain's employees, saying the student was wrong to have hogged her seat.

The issue also surfaced frustrations customers faced about the phenomenon of students hogging seats at cafes for hours on end to study, often nursing only a drink.

The student, Huixin Yap, posted a comment on Starbucks' Facebook on Oct 26, complaining that her belongings were "kept in a basket" by a Starbucks staff after she and her friends left the CityLink Mall outlet for half an hour.

She said while she understood that she and her friends should not have hogged the seat, she was upset that the Starbucks manager "lectured" them.

Netizens defended the coffee chain with some saying Yap was lucky that Starbucks kept her things in a basket.

In response, Starbucks said in a Facebook post that it is not reprimanding the manager but "felt that we could have communicated a tad bit better".

It added: "We try our best to make sure Starbucks is a cafe that can be enjoyed by all and that everyone feels welcome at our stores. That includes improving our service standards but also communicating our policies."

In another post put up on its Facebook page at about 8pm on Tuesday, Starbucks said the "passionate discussion" on the table-hogging incident showed that the issue is something that "deeply connects" with its customers.

"We might make mistakes from time to time but we’re always here to listen to you today so that we can serve you better tomorrow," it said, adding that Starbucks takes feedback online and in stores very seriously, and that they hope to keep the "healthy conversation" going.

They also said that they would continue to "connect" with any customer to seek his or her understanding on extended usage during weekends and busy periods.

The student has since taken down her Facebook profile and her post from the Starbucks page is not there any more.

While most online users were not on the student’s side, photographer Foo Chee Chang, 28, said: “They have every right to do this, even if they just buy a drink and sit there the entire day, unless the management expressly states 'no studying' or have a time limit on how long a table can be had.”

Others like freelance writer Grace Chua, 29, were also sympathetic, having spent hours studying in cafes when they were students. But Ms Chua drew the line at leaving her things unattended to hog seats.

Popular chains like Starbucks and The Coffee Bean And Tea Leaf have guidelines to ensure that students do not deprive other customers of seats.

Both chains generally do not allow studying during peak periods - lunch time, dinner time, weekends and public holidays. Some Starbucks outlets do not allow studying from 8am to 3pm. The outlet at Bishan Community Club, however, has a designated area for those who want to study.

McDonald's also has strict rules at some outlets, where studying is not allowed.

Student A. Linesh, 18, has studied at the Tampines Starbucks outlet with his friends. The Institute of Technical Education student said such cafes are convenient spots for large study gatherings. "We study together during the exam period. It's easier to discuss questions and share notes."

He added that going to a friend's home was out of the question, because it would trouble the friend's family. He, however, said that they have never left their belongings to hog seats. He said: "That is not good. Starbucks is packed as it is."

Student counselled by school, apologises for her actions
By Jalelah Abu Baker, The Straits Times, 29 Oct 2014

The student at the centre of a Starbucks seat-hogging debate has apologised for her actions after being counselled by her school, Millennia Institute.

Responding to queries from The Straits Times, the school's principal, Mrs Tan Wan Yu, said: " The school has engaged the student and her parents to provide counselling and support to help her reflect on her actions."

She added that the student has apologised for her actions.

She also said that students have access to the school's study facilities such as special discussion rooms within the library and dedicated study areas for self-study throughout the year.

Millennia Institute student Yap Huixin had complained on Starbucks' Facebook page on Oct 26 that its staff moved her belongings which were left unattended for 30 minutes. She and her friends were studying at the coffee chain's Citylink Mall outlet.

Her post went viral online and many netizens criticised what she and her friends did to hog seats, saying Starbucks was right in putting aside their belongings to make space for other customers.

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