Food & Wine
There's nothing like a warm cafe on a cold winter's day. But how long can you sit there before you've outstayed your welcome? Katie Kenny examines the etiquette of lingering.
You know the type - they're at the best table, sipping a short black, tapping on their technology, for hours and hours and hours.
As I set up to write, I search the faces of staff for reaction and feel the gaze of a pair of yummy mummies who enter the cafe looking for a table. I've bought breakfast but still, I feel like a second-class customer.
Cafes are fast becoming social hubs where people catch up, peruse newspapers, or simply watch the world go by. But they're also, increasingly, the domain of "cafe-loungers" who use the warm space as a makeshift office or living room.
But what's an appropriate time to linger over a latte before it become just too selfish?
Travelled friends say New Zealand's cafe scene is rather harried compared with Europe, where it's the norm to sit for hours over a beverage.
It also depends on the philosophy of the cafe: some strive to make people feel at home, while others are more suited to people filing in and out.
Is there a ratio of dollars to time? General consensus seems to be if the place is busy, buying one coffee allows for up to an hour of guilt-free lounging.
Media commentator Brian Edwards describes the worst table-hoggers as "the one-cup-of-coffee, read-the-free-paper-from-cover-to-cover cafe criminals".
On his blog, Edwards writes: "[Auckland's] Ponsonby and Herne Bay are full of this wretched breed, especially on the weekend when the paper takes five times as long to read."
He stands by those sentiments when talking to the Sunday Star-Times.
"The worst thing is they'll read the paper from cover to cover, and they'll happily do this at a table for two, or even four, while others can't find a seat."
People can do what they like in an empty cafe, but when it's busy to the point of queuing, he says it would be "generous" of loungers to move on, or at least offer to swap to a smaller or less desirable table.
"To the embarrassment of my wife, sometimes I go up and ask people, ‘are you going to leave anytime soon?"'
Te Kouka is one of Wellington's most popular lunch spots, with a waitlist most weekdays. Owner Jesse Simpson says staff will occasionally give someone a gentle nudge if they've set up camp and it's approaching lunchtime.
"Every cafe has a different policy on how to create a suitable environment to maximise enjoyment," Simpson said.
"We have a really strong emphasis on getting to know our regular customers and in doing so we build mutually beneficial relationships with them. The majority of our regular coffee trade know that come 11:30am they need to wrap up their meetings and move on so that we can use the cafe to its full potential over the lunch period.
"Most people accept we are a small business with big bills to pay and appreciate we need to capitalise on the lunch trade . .. "
Christchurch's Addington Coffee Co-op, an extensive indoor and outdoor space, says it doesn't have a policy on such things and trusts patrons won't abuse that.
"At the end of the day, we want our cafe to be a place that everyone feels they belong in, so rushing people on to enable us to turn over tables and sell more product isn't top of our mind," manager Adrian Palmer says.
"Life is too rushed as it is - the last thing we want to do is rush our customers."
- Sunday Star Times
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