Lonely Shanghai seniors now have to buy something if they want to cruise all day in Ikea’s cafeteria

China's Transition
China's Transition

Chinese shoppers have long taken advantage of Ikea’s spacious and comfortable stores to picnic, nap, and read newspapers. A group of elderly Shanghainese takes it a step further, with dozens and sometimes hundreds of seniors meeting weekly at the cafe of Ikea’s flagship store in Shanghai. Staying for hours without ordering any food, they’re part of a blind-dating group—and they are cruising for potential spouses (paywall).

Now the Swedish retailer is taking action against them. On Oct. 5, the store announced it would ban freeloaders from the cafeteria and request customers order food before they are seated, local newspapers reported (link in Chinese) this week.

A warning to the “illegal dating group” using the cafeteria. (Wechat/Shanghai Morning Post)

A notice board put up at the cafeteria entrance states that an “illegal blind-dating group” is “seriously” affecting the eatery’s normal operations with their “uncivilized behavior.” The transgressions include “taking up seats for long hours, bringing outside food and tea, speaking loudly, spitting, and having quarrels and fights,” the notice reads.

But the new measure hasn’t stopped the elderly patrons from enjoying dates at their favorite hangout. Now they simply buy the cheapest item available—a croissant costing 4 yuan (60 cents)—so they can spend the day there as usual, the Shanghai Morning Post (link in Chinese) reported. The strategy is to eat only outside food, including steamed buns, but to put the pastry on the table so staffers can’t shoo them away, one senior citizen explained to the paper.

Still, some seniors complain about the new rule. “This is compulsory consumption. I don’t think it’s fair,” one told a local paper (link in Chinese). Another said the restriction is “baffling.”

A store spokesperson told the Shanghai Morning Post (link in Chinese) that the cafeteria previously warned those senior citizens against staying for long hours and behaving badly, but they wouldn’t cooperate. The huge influx of customers during the past “Golden Week” holiday, she added, also factored into the decision to adopt the new rule.

Tension between busy eateries and lonely seniors is not unique to Ikea or China, of course. A few years ago a McDonald’s outlet in the Queens borough of New York City limited customer visits to 20 minutes—and called the police to have some persistent seniors removed.

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