It became very clear to me this weekend that some people are a little confused about coffee shops*, so, please let me explain.
1. Some coffee shops provide seating as a courtesy to be used by customers. The seating is generally open seating which means that it is provided on a first come first serve basis to customers who wish to utilize it.
2. Sometimes the coffee shop will make some basic requirements about seating, such as requiring that you have purchased an item there today or limiting the length of time you may utilize the free wi-fi.
3. All such restrictions are up to the establishment, they are not up to other customers to attempt to enforce or otherwise decide that certain other customers have outstayed their welcome.
4. No matter how often you visit said coffee shop, the contract that you enter into when you purchase food pertains only to receipt of such food. The coffee shop is under no obligation to also provide you a table. If you want a guaranteed table, they have other types of establishments called restaurants that arrange their seating based on the number of customers and they would be happy to provide you a table.
5. If things are crowded, or if the remaining seats don’t quite fit into your group, it is acceptable to ask patrons who may appear to have unused seating if they would be willing to spare a chair. The key word there is ask, which you do not only to be polite, but because the person may have a plan for said chair that is not visible to you, and as winner of the first come first serve contest, they have first rights to said chair.
6. If things are crowded, it is also acceptable to ask people if you may share part of their table, perhaps the end with just enough space for you to place your drink on it. Again, key word, ask.
7. It is not acceptable to suggest that since someone doesn’t really seem to be using the table maybe they could vacate it for your convenience. Or that they could move to another table with someone else so you could sit at their table. Again, the way first come first serve works is that people who get their first, get first dibs on the spaces they may wish to use.
*Yes, these guidelines will work in tea shops, and many other beverage or food based establishments.