I’m a writer and I kid you not, every few months someone asks me, “So, do they pay you?”
Not because there’s anything complicated about my role or my industry – I’m not a hitman or an explorer. It’s not (entirely) because I’m terrible at my job and it’s not (entirely) because they’re ignorant. People are compelled to ask me that question, or at least think it, because so many of us have stopped feeling like we should pay for stuff.
Our culture has developed such a fundamental sense of entitlement that our collective appreciation of overhead, time investment, reciprocity, and incremental livelihood has been all but crushed under the crippling weight of a “what’s convenient for ME” mentality.
Most prominently, we see this bratty behavior with “content” products as we illegally stream television shows, flip out at the New York Times paywall, or check in every few days to see if Limewire still works (holy hell, I’m old). And that’s all bad. It gets even worse, however, when our skewed mental space creeps into the finite physical space of the small businesses around the city who are trying to piece together a future one scone at a time.
I’m talking about coffee shops – if you’re going to sit there using their space and their WiFi and their oxygen for more than two hours, you should be buying more things. They are not shared office space, they are not a youth hostel, and they are not your mommy’s kitchen. They are a business and as a patron you have no choice but to toe their bottom line.
It’s one thing to pitch a tent in a Starbucks while you carefully gnaw at a blueberry square for five hours and try to figure out how the barista could have possibly thought Adrian’s name was, “Aimen”. Their empire doesn’t rise and fall in harmony with your levels of bandwidth and self-absorption at one of their eighteen trillion locations. They get that and through their attitude and their layouts, they invite people to get strapped in.
It’s quite another thing though to box out several hours of alternate business at an independently owned local coffee house because you think a soy latte earned you the time to design a f***ing website on someone else’s internet bill.
I am a part owner of a bar/restaurant in Toronto and believe me, I love it when I see people parked at the bar for 3 hours breathing life into the place. But the assumption is that every 30 minutes or so (ideally much more frequently so they get SHMAMMERED) they are refilling their glass. More often than not, they do. And that’s one of the most astonishing things about the coffee shop camp-out trend; we seem to be on the same page when it comes to restaurants and bars.
Nobody gets the bill at a restaurant and then stays at their table fingering through Instagram photos for another twenty five minutes. At diners you’ll get the odd coffee hog reading a whole bloody newspaper but usually those are regulars, that’s the only place they go, and half the time they snag a full meal too.
Coffee shops have been punted into this twilight zone of the food and beverage industry where a $3.40 frappuccino makes people feel like they just paid rent and I think we owe it to our city’s entrepreneurs to be a little more conscious of the imbalance.
Obviously I don’t speak for all the independent coffee houses out there and of course some business is better than no business, if that’s what it comes down to. But next time you roll into a coffee shop and you can’t find a place to plug in your laptop, don’t shake your head and silently bitch like someone just gave you gonorrhea for Christmas. Put yourself in their aprons and think about why it might be a good thing that you’ve only got a few short hours on the clock. Or when you do find somewhere to park, just make sure you top up the meter accordingly.
A few extra coffees may be what you need to stay awake, but it’s what they need to stay afloat.