Patron shaming a no-no

Chew on this: A no-drink surcharge is common at some food courts in Penang, but deliberately shaming non-compliant customers is not. — CHAN BOON KAI/The Star

PETALING JAYA: It may not be a common practice to charge someone for not ordering a drink at a kopitiam, but it is certainly not okay for business owners to do so, according to industry players.

Wong Teu Hoon, president of the Malaysia Singapore Coffee Shop Proprietor General Association, stated that all of its members are never encouraged to charge customers who do not order a drink at the coffee shop.

“We have no right to interfere with how each kopitiam charges its customers because each has its own business model and challenges.

“But we do not encourage members to charge non-drinking customers. It’s not appropriate,” he said here yesterday.

Last week, a coffee shop owner in Penang publicly shamed his customer, an elderly man, for failing to order a drink at his shop in Carnarvon Street.

However, his action backfired, as Internet users reacted negatively to his attempt, causing the coffee shop’s Google review rating to drop to 1.3 stars from 4.2.

The man has since apologised for posting the elderly man’s picture on Facebook, but has maintained that the RM1 surcharge will still be imposed on those who do not order drinks at his shop.

He stated that it was “a matter of principle” and that he had the right to protect his ownership interest by imposing the surcharge.

Wong said the man’s action had brought shame to the coffee shop industry, and that he was not a member of the association.

“We recognise that the current high prices of goods and raw materials have had a significant impact on the industry’s operating costs.

“That is why we have been emphasising to our members the importance of maintaining positive customer relationships.

“When we are good, our customers will undoubtedly continue to support us in the traditional coffee shop business.

“They will understand that even if we are forced to raise prices, it will not be excessive,” he said.

Petaling Jaya Coffeeshop Association president Keu Kok Meng said that some coffee shops do have a sign stating that those who do not order a drink will be charged 50 sen or RM1, but he does not understand why they want to do so.

Based on his experience, it is common to see patrons who come for lunch alone with a tumbler in many coffee shops in Petaling Jaya and other parts of the Klang Valley.

“The ‘No Outside Food Allowed’ policy is well understood by the majority of customers.

“But some people, particularly office workers, bring their own drinks to lunch. Should we chase them away?” asked Keu.

While coffee shop owners have the right to impose dine-in rules, Keu believes it is up to patrons to make an informed decision and follow the rules based on the “willing buyer, willing seller” principle.

“Many food operators are still struggling to recover from the pandemic, and they may be experimenting with different profit-maximising strategies.

“Our 500-plus members consisting of food and beverage business operators, on the other hand, do not impose such rules, and the association will never condone such practices.

“Besides, ranting and exposing an elderly man like this online is completely uncalled for,” he added.

Malaysia Federation of Hawkers and Petty Traders Association deputy president Ong Kee Tea said that patrons failing to order a drink at the kopitiam is a minor issue.

“Putting it online for public scrutiny hurts the kopitiam’s image. It shouldn’t have been blown up in the first place,” he said.

He said customers typically order a drink when dining in, with exceptions usually occurring when a customer dines alone at a kopitiam or hawker centre.

“He might not want to drink for health reasons.

“As long as no outside food is permitted, whether or not to order a drink is up to each individual’s needs,” he said.

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