The Coffee House Quandry: Claiming a Table

Crowded West Hollywood Coffee BeanI need to accept that while others embrace the hip-hop lifestyle, the surf lifestyle, the Fox News lifestyle, or countless others, I’m definitely of the Starbucks lifestyle. While I’m still working on my definition of this, it certainly includes people who hang out way too much at Starbucks, frequently hours at a time even when only buying one cup of coffee, while making full use of the T-Mobile internet access. (or maybe I should retitle this the T-Mobile Starbucks lifestyle).


There’s an unwritten code among laptop users to share the all too rare outlets. Often times you’ll even find people who bring their own multi-outlet adapter.

But the unsolved problem is what to do when you arrive at a busy coffee house and see only one remaining open table or seat.

Do you:

a. Put your jacket/bag or whatever to “claim” the spot upon arrival – thereby eliminating it from people who may have arrived ahead of you, but are still waiting in line for their first purchase.

b. Wait until after you’ve placed your order, but before your beverage is ready.

c. Wait until your coffee is ready and filled.

I’ve been frustrated with the people who go with “a.”, as I usually don’t want to leave my belongings out of arms reach in a public place. But, sometimes you have to be a shark.

Still, “b”, if not “c”, seems like common courtesy, and is usually the way I go – no coffee shop comfort is worth the bad karma.

Or is it?

…photo by djwhelan

12 thoughts on “The Coffee House Quandry: Claiming a Table”

  1. I’m an “a” but I also bring along a shared adapter and my laptop can’t function on batteries (lame), so it gives me little choice. My gripe is when a cafe iswith people who refuse to share a table even when the place is packed. Once I was denied a CHAIR because i girl wanted to use it for her frickin purse.

  2. IMHO, A stands for asshole. I think B is perfectly acceptable and much more polite.

    Unfortunately, there are more assholes in the world than courteous people so chances are you’re usually going to have to preclaim a chair if you’re dealing with a busy venue.

  3. Polite or rude, you coffeehousers are a unique hearty and focused bunch that can put up with noise and intrusions I can’t. Last time I attempted to work in one, I had a person yapping away on a cellphone try to wedge in between me and the empty table she wanted and I first got a load of backpack upside the head and then she racked her rear end alongside me. I mean, if my shoulder was an iceberg her ass was the fucking Titanic if you know what I mean. Close encounters like that just aren’t worth going to jail over so if I need to get out of the house with my lapper I opt for the quiet storm of the Central Library.

  4. I think “A” is pretty rude. I can sympathize with the “everyone else does it so I have to too” argument, and I’ve been tempted by that line of reasoning, but I don’t think I could really enjoy my coffee or concentrate on my writing if I felt like I was being a jerk.

  5. The only time I go with A is if there’s little to no line, and it doesn’t look like anyone in line is about to sit down.

    Its one thing to steal a seat someone might take, but I’ll be damned if someone else is going to walk in behind me and snag a seat.

    But when in doubt, I’ll avoid being an asshole… usually. I must confess to the occasional desperation.

  6. I don’t think A is out of line. Don’t we all grab a table first in a crowded counter-service restaurant if it looks like there will be trouble? Particularly if there are 2 people along, one always goes to grab a table while the other orders. Does that make them assholes?

    Is it really any different to exploit the fact that you brought a jacket than it is to exploit the fact that you brought a friend?

    One of the basic morality tests is to ask “What if everyone did what I’m proposing?” This rule easily rules out something like stealing cable, because if everyone did it, there’d be no money to produce cable in the first place. In this case, if everyone grabbed their table first, then… tables would be allocated on a first-come/first-served basis. What’s wrong with that?

  7. Rob, I keep trying to find a strong argument against your mentioned ethics test… and I simply can’t find one. Its a decent point.

    However, as mentioned, I think the reason most people don’t risk just putting down their stuff is because they don’t want it to be stolen. Which is why I don’t think you can compare it to taking a table at a restaurant before your whole group shows up (which many restaurants don’t allow, and can be rude).

    I don’t think of this in question of ethical or moral terms, just plain courtesy.

  8. In this case, if everyone grabbed their table first, then… tables would be allocated on a first-come/first-served basis. What’s wrong with that?

    All things being equal, nothing. But in the real world not all customers are equally capable of saving seats.

    I think you’re assuming the wrong question for your morality test anyway. It’s not just “What if everyone in the world saved seats in advance,” it’s “What if, when faced with dwindling supplies of a highly valued resource, everybody worked to their own advantage at the expense of others?” Obviously that’s a much different answer.

  9. Usually C, occasionally B (if I’m with someone or have a lot of stuff with me and have no free hands to grab my coffee with as well). Most places I do go to aren’t so crowded that I have to consider A. Even then, sometimes it’s worth it to wait it out a bit to see if a better spot opens up by the time your order is called.

  10. David, I don’t see how it’s at the expense of others. It’s still first-come, first-served.

    The good news, though, is that Starbucks chairs are a totally renewable resource! :)

  11. Usually I go with B – NEVER with A – but then again, I’m just not that stressed out!!!

    I saw a guy come into a Sbux in downtown (the one at 9th and Santee) and set his crap down on the last remaining table and get in line behind, oh, about 8 other people… including 3 dudes who looked like they were extras in American Me… those guys got their coffees, took a look around, remembered that nerdy guy who was thinking he would hold the only remaining table until he completed marking time in line… and they went over and (actually quite gently) placed his stuff on the floor and took the seats at that table. Darn if that dweeby guy didn’t just get his drink, pick up his shit and VERY quietly make his exit…

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