TITLE: OBSERVATION AT A POPULAR BOOKSTORE CAFÉ
Over the past few years, commercial spaces have become areas for multifunction activities. Along with the availability of gourmet coffee, food, ample seating, and free WIFI bookstore cafes have welcomed a clientele that blends leisure, social and work related activities. In this context, a local popular Barnes and Noble bookstore cafe served as the perfect environment to perform a field observation for this assignment and to explore customer behaviors and reasons for patronizing this particular establishment.
Nestled in a busy Shopping Center on the east side of a traffic jammed Central Avenue, in Westchester County, Barnes ...view middle of the document...
Patrons like myself stood in line scanning the café for empty tables and available seats. The arrangement of the tables in this area allowed for more seating flexibility and appeared to lower social boundaries between customers while encouraging interaction between members of cliques and individual patrons. Armed with my laptop and cappuccino, my observations occurred from an empty table in the center of the café.
I felt at ease in this setting, as there were many more customers like myself, sitting alone reading, typing away on their laptops, writing in yellow pads or studying. Being in plain sight in a public environment, I assumed the role of a participant observer despite feeling a little unsure about the landscape of this assignment and insecure about my field note taking capabilities.
As I settled in, I spotted a few neighboring customers who were about to get comfortable in their seats. A young man sitting nearby with his laptop cover still closed, stated, ”I come here quite often. WIFI is free, the service is great, I plug my earphones and in an hour I get a lot more work done here than at home with the kids”. Another regular customer stated, “This is where people come in between shopping, or like myself to get some work done after running some errands”. When I asked a few customers about policies regarding reading printed material without purchasing them, and if there were any time limits for occupying the tables, I learned about a couple of unwritten social rules which highlight the culture at this particular café. First, there was no pressure placed upon customers to purchase printed materials or consumables in order to occupy a table. Second, tables were occupied on a first come basis and, it was up to customers arriving later to initiate ‘table sharing‘ requests if they wished to sit and remain there for a while”.
Table sharing seemed to be a common practice at this café. I watched a middle aged woman carrying a winter coat, handbag and a cup of coffee approached an elderly man sitting in front me, placed her bag on the floor and coffee on the table, deployed the man’s jacket from the seat in front of him, then asked if she could sit in the unoccupied seat. The man nodded affirmatively by quickly taking ownership of his jacket and placing it on his lap as the lady sat in front of him. They did not talk and the woman left after finishing her drink. I wondered for a while if this couple were together. Grabbing a stranger’s personal items before politely asking permission to occupy a chair in a public setting seemed odd and unusual.
After examining my field notes, the issue of reflexivity came to mind....