Annoyed, Party of One

Feb 25, 2009 at 10:47 am
"Tables? Your coffee shop has tables?" - Wikimedia Commons
Wikimedia Commons
"Tables? Your coffee shop has tables?"
When I was in grad school in Iowa City, there was this coffee shop with rude signage. Sure, the place seemed cozy, with its local art and overstuffed couches, but those accoutrements belied a dark truth: This coffee shop did not like you. It could, perhaps, tolerate you in small doses, but everywhere there were signs (literally): DO NOT OCCUPY A TABLE FOR MORE THAN ONE HOUR.

Doing research for your thesis? Preparing for the bar exam? Grading students' papers? Those things all take two or three hours, sure, but ha ha, sucks for you! Because in 60 minutes, the staff will start ahem-ing and giving you The Eye.

I avoided this coffee shop. I went out of my way to avoid it. I patronized every other coffee shop except for it, because no other coffee shop tried to criminalize leisurely sipping. I tell people about it, that this coffee shop made you get up even when there wasn't a crowd, and of course everyone thinks that's ridiculous and rude.

But now, you no longer have to go to Iowa City to be judged in a coffee shop! A local coffee joint will even do you one better: Single customers can only sit at the tiniest tables. Any table bigger than, say, a breadbox bears a sign indicating that THIS TABLE IS FOR TWO OR MORE ONLY. There's a please and thank you thrown in, and some seemingly arbitrary exclamation points, and the Orwellian declaration that this is "best for ALL customers."

click to enlarge Support the free-range coffee-shop patrons! - Larry Rana, Wikimedia Commons
Larry Rana, Wikimedia Commons
Support the free-range coffee-shop patrons!
Sure, one person only needs one chair. But one person, particularly one person who has a lot of work to do, has stuff. Plentiful stuff. Stacks of stuff. When that stuff must be placed on a table with the surface area of a phonebook, it does not work. And when these teeny tables are close together, and you must bend over to plug in your laptop, you run the risk of getting inappropriately close to one of your fellow solo-flyers.

This coffee shop has forced me to say "Excuse me," "I wasn't actually trying to get fresh" and "Sorry about my butt, there" more times than I would care to count.

Look, I get it. I waited tables for years. There's nothing more annoying than getting a lone diner at your four-top, only to have that diner stay for two hours and just eat soup and make "lemonade" with lemon slices and sugar packets. Yes, that's bad. But solo dining, I argue, is not the same as going to a coffee shop alone. Most people go to coffee shops alone. It's like a satellite office, and as long as you're buying drinks and/or food, you should be able to stay a while and work. But if all the teeny tables are occupied, what's a lone patron to do?

When faced with this situation late last week, I was completely flummoxed and kind of just stood there for a while, in a Stains-the-Dog-esque stupor. I then remembered that I am a grown woman with projects to finish, so I sat at one of the sign-bedecked tables. And I am telling you, that sign was like a Scarlet A. Even though there was absolutely no one waiting for a table, people looked at the sign, and then back at me, like maybe I couldn't read, and if not, what was I doing with a stack of manuscripts?

I'll be taking my solitary, caffeine-addicted business elsewhere, I think. And yet I'm hesitant to name the coffee shop in question, because what if I have to return for some reason someday? You'll be able to spot me: Balancing papers on my lap, sipping an Americano, plugging in my laptop when the battery finally runs down. Sorry about my butt, there.