SINGAPORE - A complaint by a student that Starbucks staff had put aside books that belonged 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 face over the trend of students hogging seats at cafes for hours to study, often nursing only one drink.
The student, Huixin Yap, posted a comment on Starbucks' Facebook page on Monday, complaining that her belongings had been "kept in a basket" by a Starbucks staff member after she and her friends had left the CityLink Mall outlet for half an hour.
She said that, while she understood she and her friends should not have hogged the seats, she was upset that the Starbucks manager had "lectured" them.
But Netizens defended the coffee chain, with some saying that Ms Yap was lucky that Starbucks had 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 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."
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 Ms Yap'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 done exactly what the student did when they were studying.
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 a 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. However, he said that they have never left their belongings to hog seats. He said: "That is not good. Starbucks is packed as it is."
This article by The Straits Times was published in MyPaper, a free, bilingual newspaper published by Singapore Press Holdings.