Coffee news: independent cafe sparks online debate

The owners of a Surrey cafe have found themselves involved in an online discussion after they rebuked a large group of customers for not buying enough food and drink.

Many of us now treat cafes as an extension of our offices, browsing the internet, sending emails and arranging to meet clients. With the recent upsurge in remote working, more and more freelancers and homeworkers head to coffee shops for at least part of the day, lured by fast wifi and the prospect of some social interaction in an otherwise featureless day. There’s a tacit understanding between cafe and customer, though, that in order to qualify for the central heating, wifi and comfortable seating you need to keep being a customer – ie. you need to keep ordering food and drink. Try to get through a day on nothing more than free glasses of tap water, and you’d rightly expect to be asked to leave.

There are no hard and fast rules about how many drinks or sandwiches you should order per time period, though, and Henry’s Bistro Cafe in Wallington, Surrey, clearly thought they’d got the thin end of the bargain recently. The independent run cafe recently informed a group of 17 customers that they had been occupying the premises for too long, and hadn’t spent enough in return.

One of the group shared the cafe’s comments, which stated that the party of 17 had spent only £55 in total over three hours, on social media. The business claimed that this equated to ‘less than the price of a cup of tea’ per person per hour. The cafe went on to justify their comments by saying as they’re an independent business and a new start-up, they don’t have the financial cushioning of other, larger businesses. They pointed out that the amount spent by the group didn’t cover the costs of serving them (adding up staff costs and overheads), and said that the group had given them ‘no incentive or obligation’ to serve them in the future.

The Facebook post was widely discussed among the members of the Wallington town group. Many comments were in support of the business, pointing out that no independent enterprise could thrive in the town unless it was properly supported.

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