Starbucks proudly lets many of its visitors spend hours inside its locations, whether they buy coffee or not, as part of the mission to establish its locations as that "third place" after home and work. McDonald's also sees loiterers, although they're a different breed.
Despite free WiFi, McDonald's doesn't attract the laptop crowd. Rather, due to a combination of its cost-consciousness ($1.00 coffee) and perhaps more subdued atmosphere, McDonald's has become what The New York Times describes as a "sort of everyman's Starbucks."
Behavior perhaps more prevalent in urban locations, McDonald's may attract the elderly needing a place to go, teens looking for an after-school hangout, or even homeless people looking to escape the cold. While signs on many walls state patrons face a limit of 20 minutes to park at a table, it's rarely enforced.
The issue, not surprisingly, came up recently when the rule was enforced and gained more attention because the incident involved the elderly.
The case involved a dispute between a group of older Korean immigrants and a McDonald's in Queens, NY. The customers long heard complaints around their knack of buying only coffee and fries, then hogging booths for hours at a time. Some stayed from 5:00 a.m. until after dark, according to reports.
Calls by the restaurant to the police or 911 to forcibly remove the elders sparked outrage among the immigrant community. With local politicians involved, a compromise was reached whereby extended seating privileges at the location were allowed except for "high traffic" hours between 11 a.m. and 3 p.m.
"The restaurant has welcomed these guests for a long time, [but the lengthy stays by the elderly Koreans] has led to uncomfortable interactions with the McDonald's workers," Lisa McComb, a spokeswoman for McDonald's, told the Times.
A follow-up article in the Times found that McDonald's has no national policy about discouraging longtime sitting.
"The individual franchisees do what they feel is best for their community businesses," Ms. McComb said. "In the case of Flushing, that franchisee welcomed those guests for years, and it was only when other customers felt they were no longer welcome that he attempted to adjust the visit time with the customers."
At what point do you think socializing becomes loitering at a typical fast food restaurant?