Part of my daily routine is having an early morning coffee with my wife at this cute little coffee house near our work. Said coffee house is usually packed so finding a table is a gambit, especially now that it's getting colder out.

This morning I was met with a rather interesting surprise that I felt would fit very well with IPSE.

The coffee place had no empty tables so we ordered and waited at the bar for a table to open up. At a table next to us, sat a couple that had just asked for their bill and noticed us looking at them. They asked if we were waiting for a table and offered to pay at the counter for us to sit.

While were exchanging pleasantries, this woman swoops in and sits at the table.

I was quite surprised, I stopped myself from talking to her but my wife decided to confront her and a heated argument ignited that ultimately caused this woman to leave the table and the coffee place altogether.

After discussing the situation with my wife last night, we both agreed that we could have handled this far better.

How would one approach this situation without the whole thing leading to an argument?

  • @JarkoDubbeldam That specific table was a small one, 2 chairs. A 3rd or 4th could squeeze in there but there were no free chairs around.
    – Xander
    Oct 11, 2017 at 9:31
  • 18
    Sounds like it was handled as well as it could have been, the interloper was chased away. If there is limited resource that people compete over someone will win someone will lose, there is no amount of interpersonal proves that's going to materialise a new table or someone feel good about not getting one
    – Maxim
    Oct 11, 2017 at 15:40
  • 11
    Who arrived at the cafe first? If she had been waiting longer than you, arguably she had a claim to the table, regardless of whether the previous occupants had said you could sit there.
    – samgak
    Oct 11, 2017 at 22:31
  • 14
    Could the lady have assumed you were all together, and were all leaving? Oct 12, 2017 at 12:37

6 Answers 6


In order to avoid an argument, wait for another table to open up. None of the tables is your table, they are owned by the coffee place.

I agree that the woman's behaviour can be interpreted as rude, but she possibly didn't even know about your agreement. She was in your exact same situation and took the chance.

What you could have done instead:

  • Try to be nice toward her, but not pushy. Tell her, that you had been waiting and about your agreement with that other couple. If she understands, you are lucky.
  • Tell the staff about it, without complaining about the woman directly. Explain the situation instead (you had been waiting, other couple was nice, now table was taken by someone else). But they probably can't do much either, except for friendly asking that woman or find another solution not involving IPS (like additional chairs or whatever).


Two non-IPS approaches, if available:

  • Table reservation (if the coffee place offers that)
  • Learn from that woman: Sit down as soon as it is free, e. g. in your case: One of you thanks the couple directly, the other one sits down at the table immediately and thanks them from afar.
  • 8
    Thanks for your insight, it's sadly true that the "nice" approach wouldn't have worked with this person. Fortunately, as regulars there the staff that was present did side with us and I apologized to the owner who was close by. He didn't charge us for the coffees and also sent some scones our way - which was delightful. We learned our lesson now, a coat or a bag is going on the chair for sure.
    – Xander
    Oct 11, 2017 at 12:42
  • 3
    One alternative non-IPS thing you could also try is to allow for a little wiggle room in your routine. Could you have taken the coffee with you and walked around the block, or similar? Oct 11, 2017 at 13:13
  • 2
    "Learn from that woman" - I personally would not want to add such rude behaviour to my learned behaviour.
    – ESR
    Oct 12, 2017 at 1:22
  • 9
    @EdmundReed Well I think the whole premise of this answer is that sitting down at a table as soon as it becomes free isn't rude, and the answer is saying that we should learn that behavior from the woman - not the argumentativeness.
    – David Z
    Oct 12, 2017 at 1:33
  • 5
    Pull up a couple of chairs and join her? Maybe a little passive aggressive.... but super awkward!
    – rrauenza
    Oct 12, 2017 at 11:42

In short: Place some of your belongings on the table/chair ASAP.

In similar situations, when I'm out with family or friends and we notice a table about to be vacated, we ask the present occupants if they are about to leave, and if we could occupy table after them. In case they don't mind, as is the case usually, one person from my group places one of his/her small belongings (like a shopping bag, purse, bottle) on to that table/chair, as a sign of occupation/possession, and this mostly works.

Depositing a physical object on the claimed territory is usually stronger evidence and tangible proof, than convincing a person about a prior agreement with the earlier occupant, who has, most likely, already left.

  • 18
    Exactly! It might feel a little forward placing items on a table where people are still in the process of leaving, but you can disguise the act. Placing a bag on the table and declaring "I'm going to find a menu" - you were just freeing your hands. Placing a coat on a chair as the occupant is standing, you're helping move the chair out their way as you thank them. Whatever you do to mark the table, blend it into something banal you could be doing anyway. And finally, don't mark the table by peeing on it.. Oct 11, 2017 at 13:14
  • Thanks for "adding to the feeling by making it sort of necessary". But your extra comment on other activities takes away from the succint message.
    – DS R
    Oct 11, 2017 at 14:31
  • I never liked "reserving" anything by placing a personal item on it but it's a fair point. The problem in this case is that this woman came up from behind the couple leaving while said couple was blocking us from sitting while they left. This whole thing must have lasted like 10-20 seconds. Even if we wanted to place an item on the table we'd have to throw it over the couple's heads and hope that it lands on the table/chair or not some patron's head.
    – Xander
    Oct 12, 2017 at 6:22
  • Surely it can be very difficult to do the "reservation". But there are times when it can be done.
    – DS R
    Oct 12, 2017 at 6:27
  • 1
    @GrimmTheOpiner That last sentence is I think not really needed. I doubt there are a lot of adult humans (if any) out there whose first instinct for marking a table involves committing public indecency, public urination and destruction of property, getting banned for life from your favorite coffee shop, probably getting registered as a sex offender and a host of other things. And even if you somehow are able to remain at your table: do you really want to drink coffee at a table someone just peed on?
    – Nzall
    Oct 13, 2017 at 12:48

First of all: I admire your wish to settle things peacefully and therefor can basically only add to Anne's answer.

I also have to say that of course, I wasn't there. So I don't know how the course of action actually took place.

That said, I guess starting with talking calmly to the lady, explaining why her behavior could be considered rude would be a good start.

However, from my experience this probably won't work.

What can you do now?

I see two basic possibilities:

  1. Maintain the moral high ground and "retreat". - Like already suggested in Anne's answer.

  2. Argue. Intensity of course would depend on the Lady's response but my personal opinion here is, that an argument about this rudeness is absolutely justified. Just keep it within a reasonable relation to the issue at hand.

I did not go into how to avoid the situation in the first place, because I based the answer on the assumption the incident (her hijacking the table) already happened.

I also did not include the possibility of offering to share the table because it was stated in comments, that this wouldn't have been possible. Also I consider offering this after the "hostile takeover" not an option. Except it should turn out she somehow really wasn't aware and is willing to give up the table for you.


Way to go!!! It sounds to me like you handled this one perfectly .

Personal Advice The basic problem was that the lady who stole your table did something wrong (socially unacceptable). It is my personal belief that you did the right thing by standing up for yourselves and telling her that what she had done was unacceptable.

The thing is when you tell some one that they have done something wrong they are almost always going to argue with you. Because well no one wants to be the bad guy. That's ok, because chances are that next time she is tempted to steal some ones table she'll remember her encounter with you and maybe decide to do the polite thing instead. We can't know for sure what she'll do in the future, but never underestimate the social power of peer presure to improve peoples behavior.

Just telling people honestly what their peers are doing is enough to change behavior. -Robert Cialdini, psychology professor emeritus at Arizona State University

see here

Maybe your emotions heated up a little to much while arguing with her, but with practice you can learn to stay calm even when the other person is angry.


-Breath deep and slow. this will queue your brain to calm down your fight/flight response see here

-Keep the pitch and volume of your voice low and slow.

In the middle of the conflict you'll find your voice pitch going up, your breathing quickens, and you will have to remind yourself every 30 seconds to breath deep and slow and lower your voice. Just remember practice makes perfect.

Direct Answer to your question: The staff are probably going to be to busy (or agreeable) to help. So if you are determined to resolve this without any conflict, the only option I see is to be faster than people like this woman in the future. When a table opens, sit down and thank people after you sit. Though as I've said before I think you handled the situation perfectly already.

  • 2
    I think getting into an argument about a table is terrible. Some things are worth fighting for; some things are not.
    – Nacht
    Oct 12, 2017 at 22:21
  • If your goal is to have as little conflict in life as possible then you are right. If however your goal is not to let people steal your tables well then, with some people, your simply going to have to stand up for yourself. Oct 12, 2017 at 22:38
  • For the record I always encourage staying calm. Getting upset or angry usually leads to saying/doing dumb things. Oct 12, 2017 at 22:38

The bottom line: you did not "reserve" the table by putting your things on it (or on the chair(s)) and she, just walking in from the street, saw an empty table and took it.

I'm not saying you were right and I'm not saying she was right, but from her point of view there was nothing to indicate it wasn't just an empty table.

(Side comment: my BF and I live together, and space is very tight. Occasionally, he'll clear out some stuff from a drawer and say I can have it. But if I don't put my stuff in there within a few hours, or a few days at most, he'll just fill it up again. Same principle.)

(Another side comment: I was on a short cruise with that same BF, and he got up to get a drink. While he was gone, some jerk comes by, says "do you need this chair (his) and without missing a beat or waiting for a reply, grabs it and walks off. That got me pissed.)

  • You're right for sure, I hate when people do that. I've watched this woman and she knew very well what she was doing. It's that kind of person.
    – Xander
    Oct 11, 2017 at 18:26

Putting some belongings on the table; speaking to the lady calmly and telling her calmly how her behavior was not right; and finally retreating without a scene all seem like good strategies to me. Something one should do in such situation.

However, I feel there are times when even talking calmly to the other person can result in an argument, and more. Not everyone is logical or fair, and there are some people who just like conflict. Talking to such people and telling them their wrongdoing can get out of hand.

I'll just add one more thing which is more like a general rule, and not specific to such situations.

When in a situation like this where one can either raise their voice, or retreat; perhaps one can think and ask oneself this:

Is this something I'll still be mad about after 5 years if I remember it? Then sure, raise your voice.

Is this something that if I remember again 5 years down the road, and laugh at myself for making a big deal about it. Then just let it go. It's not worth it. My two cents.

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