Tempest in a coffeepot

Daniel MacEachern
Send to a friend

Send this article to a friend.

Letter warns customers not to turn café into study hall; owner apologizes, serves up free coffee and pie

Coffee Matters, in downtown St. John's, has come under fire for a letter handed out to a few customers. – Photo by Keith Gosse/The Telegram

An aggressive letter from Coffee Matters’ manager has the coffeshop in hot water with customers.

Outrage erupted from customers online — on Facebook and on Twitter — Thursday night after a customer posted a picture of a letter from the new manager, given to a few customers this week, warning them not to spread their books and computers around the shop.

“I want to remind you that as the new manager of Coffee Matters, I was hired to increase business and to endevour [sic] on major changes to our look, service and product,” reads the letter, printed in all capitals on orange paper. “Therefore I will personally monitor my café, especially at night to decrease the use of Coffee Matters for a study hall. We are in business to service customers and want to always offer them a seat to sit and enjoy our atmosphere. When you study or on [sic] the computer you loose [sic] track of time. Then customers come in and the place looks like the library. Books and computers spread everywhere. We are investing dollars in a new look and we will not allow this abuse of my café going forward. I appreciate your business, however respect me as a business man.”

The picture of the letter began circulating online, accompanied by criticism and threats to boycott the café. Drew Power, an English student at Memorial University and frequent customer, said he was surprised by the letter.

“I understand that it’s a business, and they want not to have someone sit there on a single coffee for five or six hours. That’s obviously not good for business,” he said. “But a lot of students and writers that I know go to coffeeshops because it’s somewhere out of their house where they’re not with their home distractions, where they can work, and they’re there three, four times a week and spend between $5 and $20 on a coffee and a snack or a sandwich or a meal or something.” Power said if he’s working in a coffee shop, he’s there usually for an hour or two, but never takes up space if he’s done spending and customers are waiting for seats.

“Most people do seem respectful of the fact that it’s a business and they’re not going to stay there for five or six hours if there’s people standing up with a coffee in their hand, looking around trying to find a seat,” he said. “Most students are respectful. Obviously there’s going to be a couple of students that might not pack up and leave, and that might be causing the problem, but the majority of students don’t really do that.”

Samuel Wilkes, the president of the local Creative Writing Society, sent a critical letter to Coffee Matters, saying that if the policy outlined in the letter continued, he and his group, which he said meets frequently in Coffee Matters, would relocate. He added that no one begrudges an establishment asking someone to move along if they’re taking up space that could be used by a paying customer.

“The problem is I’ve heard that a lot of their consumer base has been there, actively buying drinks, but at the sight of a laptop or a study book, textbook, the manager will come over and essentially kick them off.”

The furor prompted Coffee Matters co-owner Earl Norman to apologize for the letter, which he said was overly aggressive and given out unauthorized by a new manager to three customers.

“I read that and I was equally appalled at the aggressive tone of the letter,” he said. “If I had seen that before that was presented to three of our customers, then I certainly would not have allowed it.”

Norman said, though, that Coffee Matters has a policy of an hour per table, and says the café has received complaints from customers unable to find a place to sit, and the response he’s heard after the note was made public hasn’t been entirely negative. About half of the feedback, he says, is from customers who agree with the intent of the letter itself, if not with its tone.

To make up for the letter, though, Norman — a full-time Memorial student himself — said Coffee Matters is offering a free coffee and a piece of “humble pie” — actually, coconut cream pie — to students for the next two weeks, pointing out the student discount and free wireless connection it offers should indicate the café isn’t anti-student.

“As owner of the company, irregardless of how this was initiated, I assume full responsibility for any actions of my employees, and that’s part of our restitution, is to offer a free piece of pie and a coffee.”

Janet Butt, who runs a customer-service blog and Twitter account — ishopandtell.blogspot.com and @ishopandtell, respectively — said while the company’s sentiment may have been legitimate, the way it shared it with its customers was “a little over the top.” She added that the Coffee Matters offer of free coffee and pie is a nice gesture.

“It certainly can’t hurt,” she said, but added that with Coffee Matters’ proximity to the Sheraton Hotel, a lot of its customer base is likely one-time customers, for whom the letter doesn’t matter.

“I don’t mean to say that it doesn’t matter to them if students are able to go in there and hang out, because they have another client base that they can work with, but I have a feeling that this issue will probably just — I won’t say go away on its own, but yeah, that will help to make it go away, and in the end their greater clients being the businesspeople using the hotel are probably going to be the ones spreading the word about their business anyhow, so I don’t think they will be hurt the way that people online feel like they really would be by boycotting and things like that. But I do think it’s a nice gesture, and it’s nice that they want to make it right.”

Power said the offer is a good step if the coffeeshop is able to get the word out that the owners don’t condone what the manager did.

“If they make sure that (customers) know they handled this poorly, then I think they will definitely save a lot of face and not lose as many customers as they could,” he said.

Organizations: Creative Writing Society, Sheraton Hotel

  • 1
  • 2
  • 3
  • 4
  • 5

Thanks for voting!

Top of page



Recent comments

  • Kevin
    March 13, 2012 - 04:32

    I agree with the Manager. Sick of seeing these students hanging around in these places taking up space. I think they have made more publicity for this coffee Shop because I never heard of it until a few days ago and I am a regular customer now. For the Students who are complaining, you should spend another few years in school to be more educated, see if you can learn some RESPECT while you attend.

  • Kara
    March 10, 2012 - 09:03

    In life, each of us is responsible for standing up for ourselves. We get to decide how we are treated - by our family, friends, and in this case a hot headed businessman. If you support his business you are telling him that it's okay to treat you the way he did. I've never been to this coffee shop, nor will I ever after reading this, but people who go there really need to consider what you stand for. I'm sure there are many other coffee shop owners who will treat you with dignity and respect that would love to have your business.

  • jim
    March 10, 2012 - 07:10

    first of all I would like to state that I have never been to this particular coffee shop; however I do think that this whole subject is gettin blowed out of proportion.Yes the letter when to far and yes it was a mistake however; with the owner after stating publically on tv the mistake I think it should all "blow over". I do like brett's idea about an internet charge if its gettin abused and I like his idea about repeat customers gettin a special rate at the cafe for the internet usage.we are condemning a local business for tryin to make a living however with furture review would find that many "tim's shops" have a similar policy about "hanging out".coffee shops are intented for relaxation from work or study and the atmosphere should reflect it; an hr is plenty of time to do so....not trying to offend anyone this is just my opinion.

  • jim
    March 10, 2012 - 07:07

    first of all I would like to state that I have never been to this particular coffee shop; however I do think that this whole subject is gettin blowed out of proportion.Yes the letter when to far and yes it was a mistake however; with the owner after stating publically on tv the mistake I think it should all "blow over". I do like brett's idea about an internet charge if its gettin abused and I like his idea about repeat customers gettin a special rate at the cafe for the internet usage.we are condemning a local business for tryin to make a living however with furture review would find that many "tim's shops" have a similar policy about "hanging out".coffee shops are intented for relaxation from work or study and the atmosphere should reflect it; an hr is plenty of time to do so....not trying to offend anyone this is just my opinion.

  • Ron
    March 10, 2012 - 06:51

    Terrific save, Owner. The Manager needed to be reigned in...sometimes that's a problem with a 'loose-style' of management. But, you've been burned once...and you are good on your feet...I'm sure your student customers appreciate the sentiment of the note to them...but, not the knock in the head. I'm sure many of them felt embarrassed to be 'pointed-at' in that public manner. They'll be back...with their friends because of the Owners sincere apology and clarification of the pressures of their business. Best wishes...student from years back.

  • Dee
    March 09, 2012 - 23:48

    I agree with the manager,I am not a student I don,t use cafe,s for their WIFI.But I do like sitting in having a coffee,biscuit etc.I don,t have anything against students or anyone else who use their laptops or study.But their is nothing worst then seeing a crowd hanging out at the place of business where you want to go.It is very intimating when you have to walk though crowds just to get served.I say if they don,t like the notice they got, go elsewhere.No doubt it is a lovely coffee shop I had been to many on Water St.It's different walking into a place of business like Coffee And Company and other stores who are holding entertainment night,you know their seating is limited.Hope everything works out .

  • Curious
    March 09, 2012 - 22:03

    Seems to be A LOT of English majors upset by this new policy...be curious to see what the Business majors think about it????

  • Latte Dah
    March 09, 2012 - 21:30

    Mediocre coffee/food both overpriced,I hated the place since it opened and refused to go back after I saw one of the owners berate one of the staff members right in front of customers. Mercifully for them, they have a client base with the Sheraton and numerous B&Bs in close proximity. I would bet my last penny that the owners orchestrated the whole thing and now they are backtracking trying to do damage control. This "new manager' who incidentally cannot spell the simplest of words,obviously thinks he owns the place. Why would someone hired as a manager ( I know what they pay their managers) uses phrases like "my cafe" and "respect me as a business man"? Unless,of course the letter itself was penned by one of the owners and they just got the trained chimp to deliver the message. Coffee Matters 2 on Water St. lasted about 2 weeks,if the original Coffee Matters was at ANY location other than where it is,it would shut down as well. Staff learn by example and the owners have set some really poor ones.

  • David
    March 09, 2012 - 20:34

    Since the convergence of the Starbucks culture with the wireless computer, coffee shops are no longer in the business of selling coffee. They are places that rent atmosphere and WiFi to their clients, with the "cover charge" being the money made selling coffee....a de facto waiting room. IMO, this is an incredibly stupid, doomed-to-fail business model. But that's not my problem...it's the coffee shop industry's problem. CM got into this entirely idiotic racket, and now they complain about how it (doesn't) work?! And in Newfoundland...?! .... where charging a dime for anything is 'unconstitutional'....!? What were you thinking, if anything at all? Epic fail.

  • Barbara
    March 09, 2012 - 19:18

    It is obvious from the Manager's strongly worded letter that this has been an ongoing problem for this cafe. Chances are that those who received a copy of the letter in question were the ones who were loitering for hours and hours and who likely didn't spend many bucks in this establishment. I'd also venture to say that more subtle tactics had failed and that's why the letter was necessary. I think the Manager was right to show that he meant business in putting a stop to loafers taking up space that should be available to paying customers.

    • V
      March 11, 2012 - 22:35

      Actually, I was one of the people to get one of these letters. His "subtle" way of telling you to get out is to stare awkwardly until you leave. He seems like a decent person, but he is clearly on a power trip. He reminded me of carmen from south park... RESPECT MYYYY AUTHORIITTTAAAYYY. And for the record, the people I knew who got these letters are medical students who spend about 20-30 dollars every time they go there to study for 2-4 hours. It is easy to assume this guy is just fed up with loafers, but to be honest, he is just a douche.

  • AugustSeptember
    March 09, 2012 - 18:52

    Well god forbid they should look like a LIBRARY!! Speaking of libraries, everyone should take their business and their laptops and head on over to the QEII Library instead! There's a Jumping Bean Cafe right there in the library, and you can stay as long as you want - nobody is going to kick you out after an hour, or frown when you take out your laptop. And the coffee is better, too!

  • christine meaney
    March 09, 2012 - 18:38

    If I were in a business that relies on keeping my customers happy and coming back again and again. I would take a long hard look at ways to keep everyone HAPPY. Loyal customers are becoming more difficult to find given how many similar establishments they have to choose from..If it were my business and computers and books and "loitering" students became a problem I would look real hard at finding suitable space (separate room) within my building and set up a study hall...Certainly a goodwill gesture towards those in the community that enjoy the atmosphere of your coffee establishment and would like to not have a little freedom to stay a bit longer...I am sure ALL your customer would appreciate such forward thinking....

  • Drew
    March 09, 2012 - 18:38

    The problem that I see most people complaining about with regards to the manager's letter isn't the fact that they are upset over losing access to free internet, or even that they feel entitled to sitting in the shop as long as they feel like after buying a $3-$5 beverage. The problem is the letter that was handed out, which the owners of the shop agreed had an "overly aggressive" tone, and was very unprofessionally handled. I believe most people have no problem with an hour time limit to sit with their coffee, do some research and type up a few pages of a report. The letter that was handed out simply stated that the manager would be monitoring the cafe and didn't mention an enforcement of the one hour time limit, but simply read (caps lock of original text removed) "When you study or on the computer you loose track of time. Then customers come in and the place looks like the library." Had the manager simply explained the one hour policy to the customers, with a well-written and polite sign or posting, I'm sure there would never have been an issue. It was the manner with which this new manager aggressivley attempted to handle the situation that caused him to come under fire yesterday and today, not a bunch of students whining over losing free internet.

  • Marthe
    March 09, 2012 - 18:24

    I really doubt that the owner didn't authorize this. In fact, I'd bet he wrote it. Why would a brand new manager call it "my" cafe? Also, they have been alienating students for years. There used to be letters on tables saying "No Laptop Use from 11:00-2:00" or something along those lines. I'm pretty sure Starbucks did market research on this and it's more profitable to have students in your cafe and to offer free wifi.

    • Mark
      March 09, 2012 - 20:26

      Exactly. Honestly the very idea of treating university students like "annoying little kids taking space away from sales" is childish in itself, and certainly horrible customer service. You're better off just hitting up Starbucks' seasoned recipe for decent customer service anyway. That letter is enough to turn me away from Coffee Matters for good, and I've never even really been a patron. Great time to boycott them!

  • shawn
    March 09, 2012 - 18:04

    now would tim hortons do that they should grow up and treat customers with respect if i were a customer id never go there again

    • Robert
      March 09, 2012 - 21:46

      Your point is well taken! But beware.........Tim Hortons has made it known that they want "this" customers in their facilities and are spending big bucks to do so. I have to wonder how the rest of us will feel/go when we must sip our coffee in our vehicle while the wifi crowd surf. I fancy it will be more drive by then drive thru!

    • ewenjones
      March 09, 2012 - 21:46

      I agree with manager, about time,you pay with your tuition for a big library, use it, this person need's turn over to make any money,have a coffee and get your ass up, ewen

    • Lisa
      March 09, 2012 - 22:36

      Most Tim Horton's doesn't offer Wi-Fi AND Tim Horton's only allows a 20-minute time limit to sit and drink your coffee (It's posted in each location). The manager was right to ask that they limit their time and their spreading out of gear, what was wrong was the approach with which the direction was given. Instead, maybe posting the 1-hr time limit and then highlighting receipt times, so they know when time is up?

  • Political watcher
    March 09, 2012 - 17:58

    I agree, wi fi freeloaders must be dealt with. here is one for the owner of coffee matters, a short while ago I had a business colleague in town and was staying at the Sheraton; I decided to take hime to your place for an early lunch. When we got there the place was just about full and we had nowhere to sit; funny thing was that most table only has a single person there sipping coffee and surfing. There was two tables of multiple chairs with one person at them checking facebook. Samr scene is repeated: sure, the students will protest and stay away but guess what, legitimate customers who are there to spend will then come in.

  • Shannon
    March 09, 2012 - 17:56

    Frankly I can't help but agree the manager's letter, and it seems that the owner has caved-in to a few granola dilettantes using Facebook... Well, perhaps it is time he heard from his other customers as well. We are also paying customers who can't get a decent seat because these Greenwich Village wannabes take up all the space; thinking that that the 5 bucks they spent on a latte entitles them to spend an eternity loitering. The manager is right; it is a business, not a dorm-room. The problem is that the owner fails to realize how many other customers simply walked away from his business (without complaining) because of this kind of behavior. He has a great product, great service and atmosphere… It is too bad he couldn’t see the bigger picture and recognize that he a lot more customers than a few Facebook jockeys... And potentially many more if some of them had the common courtesy to vacate their seats in a reasonable amount of time for the benefit of us other customers.

  • Jack
    March 09, 2012 - 17:27

    Obviously, Coffee Matters didn't learn from Forever Young Fitness Centre's mistakes they made between 2009 and 2010. Although a well known Powerlifter, Terry Young, started this popular Corner Brook based Fitness Centre in the 1980's, their current owner, Craig Anderson, and its management don't even allow them to train there anymore. If a Powerlifter wants to train at this facility, chances are they will ask you to leave or threaten to call security. In fact, that's what happened to Jackie Barrett, 2011 Special Olympics World Summer Games Powerlifting Champion, in October 2010 when he wanted to do Squats at this facility but management used an excuse that this facility is too busy for Squats even with a Squat Rack available. In light of Forever Young Fitness Centre's poor treatment towards Powerlifters, especially Jackie Barrett, they have taken their business elsewhere, and now train at Humber Community YMCA, a more fitness friendly facility. Some non Powerlifters are even started training at the local Y. Terry Young would be ashamed at Forever Young's management today. Lessons learned from the Powerlifter expulsion at Forever Young Fitness Centre for Coffee Matters and other businesses with heavy handed managers, if you're abusive towards customers or single out a group of them, they will take their business elsewhere.

    • Bob
      March 09, 2012 - 18:42

      @ Jack WTF??? Have another protein shake

  • Brett
    March 09, 2012 - 17:02

    They have the 1 hour policy for computer use. If they want to run their business in that manner then they should ask the customers to leave if they're just hanging around or if they'd like to order something else. A side thought: the manager should have gotten one of the aspiring writers to write his letter in a manner that'd go over better. Bottom line is that people like to have something for free, and the students etc, are trying to get the same: high speed internet access for nothing. If coffee matters wanted, it could implement a charge access for internet, and pass out a complimentary internet ID at purchase (printed on the bill) that is good for 1 hour after first used.

  • Brent
    March 09, 2012 - 15:27

    They've lost my business.

  • Coffee Doesn't Matter
    March 09, 2012 - 15:07

    How does one join or participate in the Creative Writing Society?