SINGAPORE - A public complaint by a student that Starbucks staff put aside books belonging to her and her friends and cleared their drinks after they left the cafe for 30 minutes has backfired.
Netizens have come out strongly in support of the coffee chain's employees, saying the student was wrong to have hogged her seat.
The issue also surfaced frustrations customers faced about the phenomenon of students hogging seats at cafes for hours on end to study, often nursing only a drink.
The student, Huixin Yap, posted a comment on Starbucks' Facebook on Oct 26, complaining that her belongings were "kept in a basket" by a Starbucks staff after she and her friends left the CityLink Mall outlet for half an hour.
She said while she understood that she and her friends should not have hogged the seat, she was upset that the Starbucks manager "lectured" them.
Netizens defended the coffee chain with some saying Yap was lucky that Starbucks kept her things in a basket.
In response, Starbucks said in a Facebook post that it is not reprimanding the manager but "felt that we could have communicated a tad bit better".
It added: "We try our best to make sure Starbucks is a cafe that can be enjoyed by all and that everyone feels welcome at our stores. That includes improving our service standards but also communicating our policies."
In another post put up on its Facebook page at about 8pm on Tuesday, Starbucks said the "passionate discussion" on the table-hogging incident showed that the issue is something that "deeply connects" with its customers.
"We might make mistakes from time to time but we’re always here to listen to you today so that we can serve you better tomorrow," it said, adding that Starbucks takes feedback online and in stores very seriously, and that they hope to keep the "healthy conversation" going.
They also said that they would continue to "connect" with any customer to seek his or her understanding on extended usage during weekends and busy periods.
The student has since taken down her Facebook profile and her post from the Starbucks page is not there any more.
While most online users were not on the student’s side, photographer Foo Chee Chang, 28, said: “They have every right to do this, even if they just buy a drink and sit there the entire day, unless the management expressly states 'no studying' or have a time limit on how long a table can be had.”
Others like freelance writer Grace Chua, 29, were also sympathetic, having spent hours studying in cafes when they were students. But Ms Chua drew the line at leaving her things unattended to hog seats.
Popular chains like Starbucks and The Coffee Bean And Tea Leaf have guidelines to ensure that students do not deprive other customers of seats.
Both chains generally do not allow studying during peak periods - lunch time, dinner time, weekends and public holidays. Some Starbucks outlets do not allow studying from 8am to 3pm. The outlet at Bishan Community Club, however, has a designated area for those who want to study.
McDonald's also has strict rules at some outlets, where studying is not allowed.
Student A. Linesh, 18, has studied at the Tampines Starbucks outlet with his friends. The Institute of Technical Education student said such cafes are convenient spots for large study gatherings. "We study together during the exam period. It's easier to discuss questions and share notes."
He added that going to a friend's home was out of the question, because it would trouble the friend's family. He, however, said that they have never left their belongings to hog seats. He said: "That is not good. Starbucks is packed as it is."