GEORGE TOWN, Malaysia (THE STAR/ASIA NEWS NETWORK) - Coffee shop owner Micah Ooi, 37, often does not mind when patrons occupy a table without ordering any drinks.
But it soon became a habit. Customers would come in and order food from the hawker stalls, but not cough up a single cent for a drink.
Frustrated, Ooi decided to put up a sign telling those who don't order drinks that they must pay a 50 sen (S$0.15) fee per person.
"Sometimes, up to five customers would sit at a table without ordering any drinks.
"Most of these customers were tourists and I felt they should order something at the very least," he said.
This now seems to be a standard move with most coffee shops here, with some even asking for a full ringgit as a "pit stop charge" if no drinks are ordered.
Ooi said that while he could not force customers to order drinks, he hoped the sign would encourage them to have empathy and support his business, and he in turn would ensure they are not disappointed by his hospitality.
As a shop owner, Ooi only sells drinks while food stall owners pay him rent.
"When a customer pays 50sen if they do not have any drinks, I serve them plain water in return.
"It is fine if only a few from the entire group at a table order drinks. At least it helps to cover my costs and work to upkeep the place.
"Since I placed the sign to serve as a reminder, many customers have developed a better understanding and we respect each other more," he added.
A food court nearby charges customers who do not order any drinks RM1. Its operator, who declined to be named, said the practice was to deter people from sitting for free.
Stickers are placed on every table to ensure all customers see them.
"Many customers come to order food and leave the tables dirty for our waiters to clean up. A cup of water costs 60sen so customers can choose to order this instead of paying RM1 for nothing.
"We just wish to use that rule to spell it out, and it is their choice," the food court operator said.
The hawker centre also charges 30sen extra for packed drinks.
Customer James Khoo, 42, who is also in the food and beverage business, said such practices are common in many coffee shops.
"I can understand why. During peak hours, it is hard to find places to sit when there are many customers.
"Some customers would sit for long hours and take up the space that others could use to eat and help the business generate more income.
"I believe it is fair as the price is stated clearly," he added.