Seat-hogging students a headache at cafes

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."

This article was first published on Oct 30, 2014.
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