Who bears the costs?

Why are there now so many people in Singapore who seem to think it’s acceptable and appropriate to take up seats at McDonald’s or Starbucks without actually being patrons?

I spend a lot of time in coffee shops or cafes reading or writing or doing yarn work, because it gets me out of the house at least. But when I do, I’ll buy a drink or two, maybe a snack. There’s rental and utilities and employees to be paid, after all. And yes, if I linger a long time, I feel faintly guilty and I’ll spend a little more. I also make a point of clearing after myself, so that the already overworked staff have less to do.

But in the last year or so, I’ve noticed a lot of people who walk into a Starbucks, sit down, and proceed to spend the next half-hour or hour there without purchasing anything. I’ve even seen several pull out drinks and food—obviously freshly purchased elsewhere—for consumption. They sit for quite a while, and often even leave their debris behind for the staff to clear. I’ve witnessed the establishment lose customers because of lack of seating.

Look, I get that I’m privileged in my disposable income, and I get that not everyone has the means to or wants to spend money at Starbucks (but McDonald’s? A cone is 50 cents…) but that doesn’t automatically give you the right to sit in their space, use their facilities, and deprive them of paying customers. If you don’t want to spend the money, or can’t, you need to find a different place to be, no? I’ve seen clearly homeless people asleep in the 24-hour McDonald’s near my home at 2 a.m. and think it’s sweet McDonald’s leaves them alone. That’s different.

I also get that you can be tired from a day of walking around, and it’s hot outside and you want a seat and some AC. But in most cases I’ve observed, these people are carrying shopping or the food they’ve purchased is… well, it isn’t homemade food. The people I’ve observed do honestly appear to be at least comfortably middle-class people, who can’t even say “I can’t afford it.”

You could argue we need more seating in malls and commercial spaces, more communal spaces that are free of charge, and maybe water fountains—and I’d agree!—but that’s a separate discussion too. I remember hanging out at open air car parks and green spaces and sharing a drink at a fast food place when I was a poor student or early on in my working life. Some public amenity not existing doesn’t mean a private establishment is required to provide you with it, especially at cost to them. We do have parks and void decks and libraries and community centres and kopitiams and food courts, where space is often abundant, often free, and also often air-conditioned. Why not choose those?

So honestly, serious question, I want to know what is going through their heads that they think this is okay. Is it more “I want this and therefore I should have it” thinking? Because that just seems wrong.