ST online poll: 96% of 11,000 polled agree with Starbucks removing belongings of seat-hogging student

An overwhelming majority of readers who responded to an online poll by The Straits Times thought that Starbucks did the right thing in clearing the unattended belongings of a group of students. -- PHOTO: REUTERS
An overwhelming majority of readers who responded to an online poll by The Straits Times thought that Starbucks did the right thing in clearing the unattended belongings of a group of students. -- PHOTO: REUTERS

SINGAPORE - An overwhelming majority of readers who responded to an online poll by The Straits Times thought that Starbucks did the right thing in clearing the unattended belongings of a group of students.

Of the more than 11,000 who responded within hours, about 96 per cent answered "Yes" to "Do you think what Starbucks did is right?".

The overwhelming response to the poll appears to underscore widespread frustrations among some customers over the phenomenon of students hogging seats at cafes for hours on end to study, even during peak business hours.

Student Huixin Yap and her friends, who were studying at Starbucks' Citylink Mall outlet, left their things unattended for 30 minutes.They returned to find that cafe employees had put aside their belongings in a basket to make space for other customers, and threw their drinks away.

Yap then posted a complaint on the public Facebook page of Starbucks on Oct 26, saying that she felt "humiliated and disrespected", pointing out that she was a paying customer. The post went viral, with many speaking out against what she did.

Netizens said that customer is not always king, and many were irked by the teenager's seeming "sense of entitlement".

While they identified with the need for a studying space, they did not agree with the student leaving her things unattended for so long, and then feeling slighted that her belongings were removed.

Said researcher Junaini Johari, 28: "If she left for the washroom, fine. But for as long as 30 minutes? It's not fair to the establishment or other customers."

Ms Karyn Low, 45, discourages her 18-year-old son from studying in cafes during peak periods. Now, her son would even chide her if she lingers too long at a cafe.

"These students shouldn't be encouraged. They deprive the patrons of seats and the cafes of additional business," said Ms Low, an assistant vice-president in corporate communications.

Starbucks Singapore replied to Yap's post and said that they did not reprimand the manager of the outlet. The coffee chain, however, acknowledged that its staff could have communicated better.

"It is your place as much as ours. We will continue to do our best to connect with any customer to seek their understanding on extended usage during the weekends and busy periods," Starbucks said in a Facebook post on Tuesday night.

jalmsab@sph.com.sg