Brian Edwards Media

Curmudgeon Comments on Cafe Crimes in Ponsonby/Herne Bay

We went for lunch today to one of our favourite haunts, the Blake Street Cafe in Ponsonby. A pleasant atmosphere and wonderful food cooked by owner/chef Shelley. The place was packed with only one table free in a rather dark corner, not really to our liking on a sunny but miserably cold day. Co-owner and maitre d’, Andre, who has the extraordinary good fortune to be married to Shelley, suggested we take that table until another came free. Shouldn’t be long, a couple of late-middle-aged matrons occupying a table for four had long since finished their coffee and were obviously on the point of leaving.

Another couple were hovering waiting for a table to come free. They hovered and we waited. The late-middle-aged matrons chatted away over their empty coffee cups, seemingly oblivious to the hovering and waiting diners. They chatted and chatted and chatted. We waited and waited and waited while the other couple hovered and hovered and hovered.  And the late-middle-aged matrons chatted and chatted and chatted some more.

Finally, as sometimes happens in cafes, more or less everyone, including the late-middle-aged matrons, got up to pay their bills and leave.  Suddenly there were lots of tables.

You’ll gather that this sort of inconsiderate behaviour really gets up my curmudgeonly nose. I don’t suggest that anyone should have to flee a restaurant or cafe the very second they’ve downed their last drop of wine or coffee. But to go on hogging a table in a busy cafe long after you’ve finished your meal is just bloody selfish.

Much worse than the late-middle-aged matrons are the one-cup-of-coffee, read-the-free-paper-from-cover-to-cover cafe criminals. Ponsonby and Herne Bay are full of this wretched breed, especially on the weekend when the paper takes five times as long to read. Their flat white costs them $3.50 or $4 but they save $1.50 on the Herald foolishly supplied free by the proprietor. So their flat white costs them only $2 or $2.50, while those of us who buy our own copy of the paper to read at home or on the bus  end up subsidising these sponging pricks.

The owner of another of our favourite Herne Bay establishments, which has only seven or eight tables outside on the pavement, but must remain nameless to protect the guilty, told me that he’d more than once had to ask customers to leave after they’d spent an hour reading the paper while consuming a single long black. He, meanwhile, was losing customers and cash.

‘So what did you say to them?’

‘I asked them if they wanted to order anything else. They said they didn’t and I asked them if, in that case, they’d mind freeing up the table for some other customers.’

‘And did they?’

‘Yes, but only after they’d mentioned that I was the child of unmarried parents.’

Turning the table into your office is another crime against good cafe manners. A lot of that round here too. Usually three or four people huddled around the table. One of the four, presumably the person trying to sell something to the other three, has a laptop and brochures or other documents open in front of him/her. Four coffees are consumed, before the real business of the meeting begins. And you know how it is with business meetings, you just lose track of the time…

And then there are the pushchairs, prams, prostrate dogs, spilled fluffies on the chairs, ground-in cupcakes on the pavement, stinking butts in the ashtrays and all the other irritations that prove Sartre was right when he said ‘L’enfers c’est les autres’. Hell really is other people!

***PS Spot the deliberate mistake! 

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24 Comments:

  1. Eh … would 10 days in Raro help?

  2. Hilarious, I have watched and become part of the changing demographic of Ponsonby (Pramsonby) and Herne Baby.

    I am one of those wielding a caravan of prams, toadlers, scooters and sometimes a dog to my favourite local cafes (llucky for you not the same as yours).

    The wonderful thing is that when we are out at our favourites we are a part of a thriving modern village where rather than
    despite ” the hell of other people” but because of them we have a rich connected experience that I suspect is unlike many other Auckland suburbs. It certainly didn’t exist in the place I grew up. In fact I think the spacious Waitakeres is where one goes to avoid the good the bad and the ugly of other people.

    I love the ugly and love what you wrote. I promise to keep an eye on the cupcake squashing and promise to never become a middle aged table hogger.

    Please keep reminding me of the hilariously ugly but tell how BEAUTFUL my babies are .

    • Hilarious, I have watched and become part of the changing demographic of Ponsonby (Pramsonby) and Herne Baby.

      You sound lovely. And I don’t really mind the young Herne Bay matrons with their SUV-sized pushchairs and labradoodles. But I’m sticking to my guns: if you’ve long since finished eating and drinking and there are people obviously waiting for a table, the decent (and the charitable) thing to do, is get ready to leave. You’re depriving those people of the enjoyment you’ve just had and the cafe owner of his income.

  3. Hi Brian. To set the scene of my perspective, I don’t frequent cafes unless I’m with other people who rope me in. I rarely drink coffee and a major thing I notice about cafe food is how expensive it seems. If I’m socially obliged to order one, I’ll down a $4.50 hot chocolate in 30 seconds. I’m also a speedy eater, and my wife wonders how I manage to taste my food. I’m definitely a very stingy child of unmarried parents (except when I’m spending money on things I enjoy), and so my attitude to food probably affects my attitude to cafe culture. :)

    Right — all this said, when I actually do visit a cafe, how long is it reasonable for me to continue sitting at a table without ordering further once I’ve concluded vacuuming my lunch? I’ve had odd situations in cafes and restaurants where the table’s been cleared within 10 minutes of us sitting down, making me feel uncomfortable as if they wanted to shunt us out the door almost immediately to get more people in… almost as if it’s a crime for me to be sitting there without food in front of me, never mind a noisy lot at the next table who are taking an hour to get through their lot. Is there an approved expense to time ratio?

    When I observe cafes, it seems that many market themselves as places to sit and talk to friends, or read the paper, or have office meetings, or carry out other activities similar to those you’ve raised that may take some time. (Oh and by the way, they’ll sell you a nice coffee and chocolate brownie while you do whatever you’re doing.) They’re happy to accept the custom of people who clearly visit for that reason. If that’s why people have gone to a cafe, and the cafe has given them an impression of offering that experience, shouldn’t it be okay for customers to stay and get it? There will always be people who linger when their mind is on other things. (Walking from place to place is a large part of my day-to-day life, and around town I’ve noticed people are very happy to stand in the middle of a busy footpath oblivious to the disruption.)

    My gut feeling is that this should just be one for market forces. If cafe operators don’t like people staying without ordering much, they should ask those people to leave, or have a table use charge for those who don’t order after X minutes, or just set clear expectations for customers about the experience they’re offering, and what they’re not offering. If the tables are full, why not vote with one’s feet and go elsewhere? Surely it’s not the only good cafe. As I’ve indicated, though, I’m probably not the best person to comment on cafes. :)

  4. 4

    Tony Palmy Kermujohn

    Ha ha…better coffee, less people, less posers, less queues in George St in Palmy…go for it you Auckland suckers.

    I spose you all have to sit in your cars for 3 hours to get to your fav cafes too…boohoo…

    Keep up the good work.

  5. ***PS Spot the deliberate mistake!

    We give up. What sought of mistake is one supposed to be looking for?

    • ***PS Spot the deliberate mistake! We give up. What sought of mistake is one supposed to be looking for?

      You obviously haven’t got the picture.

  6. ***PS Spot the deliberate mistake!

    The fact you think the Weekend Herald only costs $1.50?

  7. oh brian, this wasn’t the time for you to be shy and retiring. You should have just plopped yourselves down in the spare chairs at their table. Although I suspect their chatter would have caused you to stab yourself in the eyes with toothpicks.
    I’m a seat hogger myself, I dare to sit on an $8 purchase for an hour most mornings in my fav cafe whilst *gasp* knittin.

    But I do keep an eye on the table availability and will move to communal table or outside if needed and I have also been known to let the staff know they can plop people on the otherside of my table (so long as they only make favourable comments about my knitting)

    • oh brian, this wasn’t the time for you to be shy and retiring. You should have just plopped yourselves down in the spare chairs at their table

      I’m much too shy and retiring (= antisocial) for that. We were at the movies the other day. Almost empty cinema. Seats galore in every row. An elderly lady came and sat in the seat next to me. I’m afraid I like my space. So in my sweetest voice I said, “Why don’t I move down one and give you a bit more room.” She seemed perfectly OK with that and promply put her bag on the seat between us. The bag was very quiet and didn’t chomp through a kilo of popcorn.

  8. There’s an etiquette to the amount of time one — or a group — can occupy a table in a cafe, and it should be adhered to. It’s like a parking meter: the amount of money spent per table should be then converted to minutes, (with a minimum of 10 minutes). So, if a group of 4 spend $40, then they should occupy the table for no more than 40 minutes. This is done on the basis that other patrons are waiting to be seated. So simple really.

    • There’s an etiquette to the amount of time one — or a group — can occupy a table in a cafe, and it should be adhered to

      Hmmm. Slightly Soviet feel to that!

  9. Oh, Brian! Could you get any grumpier?

    Isn’t the whole schtick of “cafe culture” that it offers a happy refuge for all the irritating habits you so hillariously deplore.

    May I humbly suggest that, if fast food service and a quick turnaround is what you’re looking for – why not patronise McDonalds?

    The poor man with his coffee reading the paper; the mothers with their prams; the noisy matrons going on and on and on: isn’t this the very spectacle you once recommended to your readers in an earlier posting about the joys of sitting alone in cafes?

    Even in your story, Brian, the moment came when the insufferable diners, like the darkening clouds of a winter’s afternoon, suddenly departed, leaving a vista of empty tables – like bright sunshine – to banish the gloom.

    Less of the grumps, Comrade. Life’s too short!

    • Oh, Brian! Could you get any grumpier?

      Greetings Chris. This was my reply to Andrea: ‘You sound lovely. And I don’t really mind the young Herne Bay matrons with their SUV-sized pushchairs and labradoodles. But I’m sticking to my guns: if you’ve long since finished eating and drinking and there are people obviously waiting for a table, the decent (and the charitable) thing to do, is get ready to leave. You’re depriving those people of the enjoyment you’ve just had and the cafe owner of his income.’

      Bloody Socialists!

  10. 10

    Don’t come to Thailand, Doctor Brian! Not only do the locals hang around just as long as they want, but they are just as likely to bring their own food with them. May include a bit of shut-eye too. Some places we go to might also have a dog sleeping under the table. Annoys our dog no end!! No one seems too bothered.

    • Don’t come to Thailand, Doctor Brian!

      We’ve been to Thailand and you’re perfectly right. One has a different attitude on holiday.

  11. Oh I see the mistake now. Pictures = 1000 words..

  12. ooohhh its a russian cafe you’ve got in the photo.

    bloddy socialists indeed!

    no wonder we couldn’t spot the difference

  13. * Seats galore in every row. An elderly lady came and sat in the seat next to me.*

    yes, well that is just strange and would freak my inner freak right out as well.

  14. 14

    * Seats galore in every row. An elderly lady came and sat in the seat next to me.*

    Forty odd years ago I went to see a movie in London while waiting for the then Mrs C to finish work. The cinema was virtually empty, but a bloke in a raincoat sat next to me. Still can’t figure out why. Any ideas?

    • Forty odd years ago I went to see a movie in London while waiting for the then Mrs C to finish work. The cinema was virtually empty, but a bloke in a raincoat sat next to me. Still can’t figure out why. Any ideas?

      Either you are hugely attractive or it was a cold day. Years ago I went to see Peter Jackson’s Heavenly Creatures at an afternoon showing in a cinema in Takapuna. There was no one else there, which was a joy because I’m allergic to people talking during movies. Just as the film was starting, two elderly women sat down directly behind me. One had already seen the movie and gave the other a running commentary throughout. “Ooooohhhhh, this is where they wrap the brick up in a towel and hit the mother over the head with it. It’s really awful….” I’m afraid I was non-asssertive and just kept turning round and glaring. It didn’t work of course. I should have said something.

  15. Mistake:

    “L’enfer, c’est les autres.”

    Just the one hell.