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Don’t Be Cheap

Written by Nickel - 27 Comments

Don't Be Cheap

On the way to work the other day, I stopped off for a cup of coffee. Yes, I’ve started drinking coffee — though I usually brew it at home — but that’s not really the point.

The point here is that, while I was at the coffee shop, a guy walked in and asked for change for a dollar and a cup of ice water. He then proceeded to buy a newspaper from the machine outside and come back in to sit down and read the paper while sipping his free (to him) cup of water.

Maybe I’m just grumpy, but… Seriously? Who has the audacity to walk into a business, ask for a free cup of water (which actually costs the coffee shop money), and then take up space that could be used by paying customers.

Don’t be cheap. Either buy something or don’t go there. Sure, he bought the paper. But that was from a machine outside, and that money doesn’t go to the coffee shop. It goes to the newspaper.

Yes, they have a sign on the door saying that their space (and internet, etc.) is reserved for paying customers. The guy behind the counter could have refused, but it was an awkward situation, and he let it slide.

Okay, I’ve said piece.

What do you think? Was he out of line? Or is this an acceptable practice?

Published on February 20th, 2012 - 27 Comments
Filed under: Consumer, Frugality

About the author: is the founder and editor-in-chief of this site. He's a thirty-something family man who has been writing about personal finance since 2005, and guess what? He's on Twitter!

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27 Responses to “Don’t Be Cheap”

  1. 1
    Cynthia Says:

    I vote cheap. It feels like the epitome of cheap.

  2. 2
    Carol Says:

    Beyond cheap, unethical.

  3. 3
    JoeTaxpayer Says:

    Cheap, I agree. Coffe shops with Internet also have the issue of people buying a water or coffee and camping out for hours. I’ve seen people still there fours hours later as I happen to pass by the same spot. Easy to get annoyed, but it’s for the business owner to decide how to handle this.

  4. 4
    Kevin R. Says:

    Your state may have a regulation that they must offer water or something with the permit (in mine, all restaurants with indoor seating must have public restrooms). I agree, this individual is plain cheap, not frugal but cheap.

  5. 5
    Ella Says:

    I agree – that’s cheap. People have to understand that this is a business and if what they want is reading the newspaper and sitting there for free then they should go to the library!

  6. 6
    Norman Says:

    Maybe the guy was a regular paying customer who normally buys something at a different time of day? If not, the guy should have been escorted out.

  7. 7
    Jeff Says:

    I’ve heard that coffee shops such as Starbucks make the bulk of their revenue from the constant stream of customers coming in and ordering to-go and not ones hanging around.

    So why create an enticing environment to sit and while away the time? Because they have found that passerby’s are much more likely to pop in when a shop looks busy. So people sitting around serve as window dressing.

    So I would give the guy a pass unless the shop was really crowded with paying customers looking for a seat.

  8. 8
    The First Million is the Hardest Says:

    Definitely cheap, but I think it creates a situation where the restaurant would look worse for throwing him out than he does for taking advantage of them. I guess the lesson is- just don’t be that guy!

  9. 9
    Brian Smith Says:

    You never know what’s behind the person. He could have lost a job and is a regular prior to his misfortune.

    Is getting a small coffee cup and having free refills wrong as well? Why not buy the large cup.

    I’m all for helping those down on their luck..

    Thanks.

  10. 10
    Mr. ToughMoneyLove Says:

    This falls under the same category those who go into Barnes & Noble, grab a book or magazine, sit in the cafe, and start reading as if it were a library. Barnes & Noble doesn’t object. They want people in their stores. It’s called marketing.

  11. 11
    PFM Says:

    My first thought was cheap, but then I thought what if he’s a regular, this is part of his routine, maybe he usually gets coffee, maybe he only got water this time but next time he comes back with a friend or a spouse, I guess you’ll really never know the back story of the person so from a store’s perspective you give the guy a pass, he may be a purchasing customer in the future and maybe the “free” water is something he remembers the next time he wants coffee, it’s good customer service

  12. 12
    Einstein Says:

    Norman’s got a point. The guy could have been a regular at another time.

    You know – I used to be a regular at quite a few places and get away with more than just free water. While this situation screams “CHEAP!” it could just be that this guy is a patron of the business, someone who might spend hundreds of dollars per month at this particular shop.

  13. 13
    JB Says:

    I’d say this guy was cheap in this instance, but as was said earlier we may not know the full story. He could own the place, be their best customer, or just killing time until the rest of his party arrives.

    I wouldn’t do it (I’d feel guilty that I was freeloading).

  14. 14
    Pamela Says:

    I dunno. I’ve been a regular customer at coffee shops and I’ve never just gotten free tap water and taken up a seat. And when I was unemployed, if I couldn’t afford to go out for coffee, I didn’t go out for coffee. If I want to duck in to get out of the cold, I’ll get a cup of tea or something. I’d feel like a mooch, otherwise.

  15. 15
    Vickie Says:

    As someone who’s been unemployed, painfully long-term, I recognize his actions say, “I’m broke, but I still want to feel like a real person – like everyone else in this coffee shop.” Have some empathy for the guy. You might be in his shoes next…….

  16. 16
    Bonnie Says:

    Maybe this is off the subject a bit, but what about the fast food spots that charge for water when you are purchasing a meal? My husband, son, and I went to Jimmy John’s recently and bought 3 sandwiches, no drinks, but asked for 2 waters. They gave us 2 giant paper cups and only 1 of us ended up drinking any, so one cup went unused. I felt guilty about that — taking their cup and not using it, until I got home and looked at the receipt — a nickel for each cup. It bugged me enough that I won’t go back there unless someone else insists. I don’t frequent fast food places — probably less than once a month. Is this common now, charging for water when you buy a meal? I know a nickel isn’t much, but since nickel is in the name of this site, I had to post this.

  17. 17
    Jo Says:

    To Bonnie, they didn’t charge for the water; they charged for the cups since they have to pay for supplies. It all adds up after a while.

    Jimmy John *sammiches* are gooooood!

  18. 18
    Wilson Says:

    So what, the coffee shop gave the man a water. As a business, they should see this situation as an opportunity to inquire from the man why their products were not desired at that time. Perhaps they need more choices.

    Personally, I do not drink coffee. I have had to meet at coffee shops with other persons and I don’t buy anything from the coffee shop. However, other persons will purchase various items. I will not purchase anything from the coffee shop unless I personally need that item. That doesn’t make me cheap that makes me a conscious consumer.

    If you think that the man getting a free water is being cheap, you should consider giving money to land owners for breathing their air…

  19. 19
    Bonnie Says:

    To Jo, about my being so cheap I don’t want to pay a nickel for water (haha), yeah I understand that they have to pay for the cup, but I think if they are going to give you a giant cup for water, they should put it on the menu. “Water in a giant cup: 5 cents” (Maybe they do, and I just didn’t see it up on the board) Most places I go to, and I don’t go to many, bein’ so frugal and all, give you a smaller cup if you ask for water, different from what they give you for soft drinks.

    I agree, Jimmy John’s sammiches are great, and I will miss them, the 3 or 4 times I year I would otherwise eat there. Ok, maybe I’ll go back and just not order water. :)

  20. 20
    Newlyfrugal Says:

    When I go into a beverage place to sit and read, I buy a small drink as a token of my business. Often I don’t feel like buying anything, so I carry a gift card whenever I go to Panera Bread or Starbucks.

    You don’t have to buy a drink/pastry every single time. I load my GC in small increments ($2, $5). Once the GC amount reaches $50 or $100, I gift it to family/friends for birthdays/Christmas or use myself. People who see me without food/beverage may deem me cheap, but I actually loaded an amount on my GC.

    If this man did not buy anything and was not a regular customer, he is cheap. Even so, I would not kick him out if I were the owner. He might like the atmosphere and return next time with a group of his friends. It’s good marketing to be pleasant.

  21. 21
    Sarah Says:

    Two thoughts -

    I was on cross country in high school. We used to stop by a Hardee’s on our local runs for free waters. We went to that Hardees all the time as paying customers since it was right by our school. I wouldn’t assume the guy is not a customer.

    On the flip side, my sister would like to go to the downtown library to study on her lunch break (she’s changing careers so prefers to leave her office building to study). Unfortunately the study carrels and tables are fully occupied by the homeless of Atlanta… as long as they aren’t asleep its’ allowed. So she’s buying coffee in order to study at Starbucks instead. It’s a shame imo.

  22. 22
    Matt Says:

    Yeah, complain about paying 5 pennies for water. Americans take everything for granted. Where I come from, in Germany, you don’t get a water at a restaurant unless you ask for it; it costs about the same as a beer.

    Needless to say, I was surprised to get a water with my Coca-Cola at a restaurant in the U.S. without me asking. I was embarrassed after inquiring whether I would be charged for it only to find out it was “complimentary”. I also felt it was an enormous waste to give me a water I did not intend to drink.

  23. 23
    I Am 1 Percent Says:

    Some people just don’t drink coffee, and outside of a bar, there are not too many places to gather. At a minimum, the compnay should’ve charged a nickel for the cup.

    Tough times out there…

  24. 24
    Des Says:

    @Matt – I don’t think it is really the five cents that bothers her – its that (as you note) it is customary to receive water for free in the US. If a restaurant wants to charge for it they have the right, but she should have been made aware there was a charge. It would be like finding a charge on your hotel bill for using the soap they provide in the room. Most people are willing to pay for their own supplies, but when a thing is typically complimentary it is irksome to be charged for it without warning. I’ve been charged for water cups before, and I don’t mind because they usually tell me ahead of time. I know they have to pay for the cup, and 5 or 10 cents isn’t a big deal, but I would feel the same way she does if I was charged without being told.

  25. 25
    Carma Says:

    Okay, it’s just a thought, but my first impression what that this guy must be unemployed.

    In order to be psychologically in the game, you still need to be ‘out there in the world’ even though you don’t feel like crawling out of bed, let alone leaving the house when uselessness and discouragement set in.

    If that is his situation, hopefully the public does not make him feel bad, I’d personally be on the edge in a situation like that and not come out at all anymore if I were looked down upon.

    Who knows, he might just be cheap, but on the chance it’s something like I stated here; I’d give the guy a smile and hello.

  26. 26
    Pilly Says:

    I think judging people when we do not have all the facts is a waste of energy and not a way I want to spend the time of my life. Judging people even when we think do have all the facts …if they aren’t causing harm
    why bother . there is so much more to pay attention to.
    The shop manager did not take action, and it was his business to do so..or not. I think we are all just Bozos on the bus. ;0)

  27. 27
    Laura in ATL Says:

    Uh . . . the guy could have been waiting for someone?

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