BANGKOK – Across Thailand, ubiquitous Starbucks and McDonald’s outlets have become much more than a place for a quick coffee or a hamburger. Outlets are increasingly packed with students and freelancers camping out at the branches for hours, using the small tables as workstations.
But not for much longer, McThai—the sole McDonald’s franchisee in the country—earlier this week issued a notice limiting customers to a one-hour seating limit during lunch, dinner and weekend hours.
It is not yet clear how stringent McDonald’s will be in enforcing these new rules, but the company—which has 178 restaurants across Thailand, serving seven million customers per month—is also discouraging customers from charging laptops and mobile phones for more than 30 minutes at electric outlets available in the fast-food restaurant.
The new rules come as many frustrated customers complain about not having seats to eat their meals, which are often crowded with customers using the tables to work or study for hours, long after their fries and burgers are all gone.
People are “hogging seats for group teaching or working” without ordering second or third meals, said McDonald’s Corporate Affairs Director Saichon Submakudom, who said the new move is “protecting equal rights for all customers”.
According to Ms. Submakudom, the company also ran a survey through social media asking for feedback on the new time limits, with most of the 1,370 respondents supporting the rules.
The company also reserves the right to remove any belongings used to reserve seats and is eligible to request customers to buy more food and drink if they are seated in a large group with hardly any food purchases.
McThai’s new seating rules come after that of Starbucks Coffee in Thailand, which in July this year issued a similar notice, requesting that students and private tutors not use the cafe for large group lessons during peak hours.
“In extreme peak-time cases, we may ask for customers’ kind cooperation not to stay unreasonably long after finishing their beverages and snacks, and not to ‘reserve seats’ while away from the café, out of respect for other customers who would also like the seats to enjoy their purchases,” Marketing and Communications Director Sumonpin Jotikabukkana said.
But for many students, joints like Starbucks and McDonald’s have become go-to spaces for long hours of work, offering a more relaxed environment than a library or school study spaces. A recent study in the Journal of Consumer Research, a publication of the University of Chicago, found that a moderate volume of background noise—about 70 decibels—allows people to think more creatively, possibly explaining the draw of studying in cafes.
One Thai student, 15-year-old Luksika Kitsirisin, said she always goes to coffee shops or fast food restaurants to read books and for tutoring sessions when examinations are near, allowing her to sit with friends and order food conveniently.
She admitted that she and her friends some time have spent several hours there.
“I agree with the time limit, but one hour is too short period,” said Ms. Luksika.
Thappawat Thongnunnuen, 21 years old, is also among the large number of students who opt for cafes or fast food restaurants over studying at a library or at home during exam period.
“Library is too quiet and makes me sleepy, but television distracts me when I’m at home,” he said.