SHANGHAI • For years, Swedish furniture retailer Ikea's restaurant in Shanghai has been a popular rendezvous for lonely older Chinese looking for love over a cup of free coffee.
But the family-friendly restaurant has now declared: No pay, no stay.
A notice now stands at the entrance of the restaurant, accusing "a matchmaking group" of "occupying Ikea restaurant's cosy dining environment" for long hours.
"(The group) would bring along their own food and drinks, make a racket, spit anywhere, quarrel and fight," the notice said, adding that the restaurant would restrict the use of its tables to only paying customers.
The "matchmaking" phenomenon at Ikea is a reflection of the plight of the aged in China, many of whom are living without family support.
An ageing society, the side effects of a one-child policy that leaves many widowed or divorced elderly people living alone and increasingly open mindsets towards divorce have led to a spike in the number of senior singles across China.
It's a reasonable restriction. In the first place, Ikea is a business for profit, not a charity organisation.
MR LIU SHIHAO, a student at Shanghai Normal University.
According to a survey conducted by Renmin University of China released in March, half of the senior citizens aged above 60 in China live alone, and a quarter of them said they feel lonely.
The China National Committee on Ageing said last week that last year, 222 million Chinese residents were above 60 years old - 16.1 per cent of the population - with the group growing by 10 million every year.
The committee predicted that 400 million people will be over 60 years old by 2033. At the rate that this age group is growing, one-third of China's population will be made up of senior citizens by 2050.
For years, the Ikea outlet would on Tuesdays and Thursdays see a throng of old folks gathering to meet friends or a future partner - sometimes without buying food or drinks, China Daily reported.
With an Ikea membership card, which can be easily obtained with a Chinese identification card, free coffee is available.
JUST FOR FUN
It's true that we gather here to socialise with our peers. But the last thing we want is to cause trouble and become a disgrace.
MR QIU, a 76-year-old Shanghai native.
Since the ban on table-hoggers came into effect on Oct 5, the crowds have shrunk noticeably during lunch hour by as much as half, according to informal observers and a security guard.
"It's true that we gather here to socialise with our peers. But the last thing we want is to cause trouble and become a disgrace," said a 76-year-old Shanghai native who would give his name only as Qiu. He had been visiting the restaurant thrice a week with his wife for two years to socialise.
"We've been to McDonald's and KFC. But there are barely any peers there... We feel like aliens there, surrounded by youngsters."