Café patrons compete for study space in popular haunts

By Hana Yoo

The ideal place for Nika Roberts to do her work happens to be a coffee shop. “I’m not a big fan of the library,” said Roberts, a masters student in international studies, who says she goes to the Third World Café about three times a week, staying there for at least three hours per visit. “I like that there’s stuff going on [here] but I’m not distracted from my work,” she said. Roberts said the longest time she ever spent there was about six hours.

Third World Café owner Forrest Moore said that he has mixed feelings about regular customers who take their time exiting the café.

Moore said that customers’ staying in the café for longer periods of time on slower days hardly poses a concern. Problems only arise during “peak hours”—between about 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. during the week, and from opening to 4 p.m. on weekends.

“We had a seating policy. It’s just so hard to enforce,” Moore said. “Sometimes you’ll have people sitting for three or four hours, and that’s just not fair to people coming in.”

While Moore said that most people are “courteous” when an employee asks them to make room for another customer, “every once in a while you’ll get someone resistant to sharing the space. Some people feel entitled to sit here as long as they want, and that’s somewhat of an issue.”

Gabe Smith, a second-year graduate student in human development, said limited seating is a general affliction of Hyde Park coffee shops. He recalled how, at the Bakery Bonjour Café, a mother once asked him to move from where he was sitting by himself to the “bar seating” so that her family could sit down. “I did it, but reluctantly,” he said, “because it’s less comfortable.”

Smith said that he has often stood waiting in line at the Medici Bakery and the Third World Café, deterring him from making purchases. “I left [the Third World Café] one time because it didn’t look like [seating] was going to open up anytime soon,” Smith said. “I wanted a place to sit and read more than I wanted coffee, so I ended up not getting anything.”

Effie Scott, a second-year in the College who works at Bonjour, said, “There’s limited seating but people are very generous. People sit and do work, and they’re really happy to share a table.” She cited an instance last week when she came to Bonjour as a customer on an especially crowded day, and a man sitting alone welcomed her to sit with him.

Matt Spitzmueller, a second-year Divinity School student in the history of religions department, said that he goes to cafés because of a desire for variety. “There’s nowhere I don’t study, but sometimes the Reg gets really claustrophobic,” Spitzmueller said. “[I like] the kind of activity that goes on in a coffee shop, people talking and sometimes people to talk to.” He prefers the Third World Café to other establishments because of its wireless internet access, which Medici and Bonjour lack, and because it is an independent coffee shop.

Starbucks’s assistant manager, who wished to be identified only as “Dave” because of Starbucks’s media policy, said, “We just got a partnership with T-Mobile to turn them into T-Mobile hot spots. And ever since then we’ve definitely seen an increase of the laptop usage.”

Dave said that for the most part, wireless internet access in Starbucks seems to have benefited business. He said seating was largely a non-issue: “I’ve been with the company nine years, and I haven’t seen [people being asked to leave] specifically because they stayed too long.”