I just finished reading the article “The Food May Be Fast, but These Customers Won’t Be Rushed” in the NYTimes and I wanted to share it with you.
The article is a discussion about how the dining rooms of fast food restaurants (McDonald’s is discussed mostly) are starting to look more like the insides of a Starbucks. In other words you see more and more customers ordering just a cup of coffee and taking up space at a table for extended periods of time. This is popular with the elderly (and sometimes homeless) especially at McDonalds. They’ll buy a small coffee and read the newspaper for 30 minutes or longer. McDonalds used to be a place where customers would buy food, eat and leave, but it’s starting to become a place where people do more than just eat.
This trend has annoyed some fast food employees and customers who have a more difficult time finding places to sit, but the article brings up a good point considering public space. The article quotes Don Mitchell, a Syracuse professor of urban geography:
“Whether they have been private property, public property or something in between,” he said, “taking up space is a way to claim a right to be, a right to be visible, to say, ‘We’re part of the city too.’ ”
The coffee drinking patrons could certainly do whatever task they’re doing at home, be it reading the newspaper, their mail or a book, but there’s a sense of participating in society that is gained doing these things in a public space. It’s the reason I love drinking a coffee at Starbucks or in a library; there’s stuff going on around you: conversations, people coming and going, etc. that makes life more interesting. It’s a welcome change of scenery for those who may not have a lot going on at home (some elderly for example). I don’t think this behavior needs to be discouraged. In fact we could use more of it.