At Ikea eatery, it’s no pay, no stay

China Daily (USA) - - CHINA - By XU­JUN­QIAN in Shang­hai xu­jun­qian@chi­nadaily.com.cn

A pop­u­lar rendezvous for the el­derly to so­cial­ize in Shang­hai — a restau­rant owned by Swedish fur­ni­ture gi­ant Ikea — is now off-lim­its to those who don’t buy food.

Ikea told its Xuhui restau­rant a week ago to pro­hibit peo­ple from oc­cu­py­ing seats if they don’t pay. Since then, the crowds have shrunk no­tice­ably dur­ing the lunch­hour, as­much as half, ac­cord­ing to in­for­mal ob­servers and a se­cu­rity guard.

Ev­ery Tues­day and Thursday af­ter­noon for years, el­derly peo­ple flooded to the restau­rant to meet friends or a fu­ture part­ner at zero cost — some­times ex­ceed­ingthe700-seat ca­pac­ity.

With an Ikea mem­ber­ship, which can be eas­ily ob­tained with a Chi­nese iden­ti­fi­ca­tion card, free cof­fee is avail­able.

There were com­plaints from pay­ing cus­tomers dur­ing the Na­tion­alDay hol­i­day, Ikea said in an email re­sponse to China Daily, ex­plain­ing the re­stric­tion that took ef­fect onOct 5.

“It’s a rea­son­able re­stric­tion. In the first place, Ikea is a busi­ness for profit, not a char­ity or­ga­ni­za­tion,” said Liu Shi­hao, a col­lege stu­dent at Shang­hai Nor­mal Univer­sity, which is near the out­let.

Liu added that this was the first time he had man­aged to find a seat and have a bite of food at the restau­rant in the three years he’s been on the cam­pus. He­and­his class­mates went to the restau­rant on Wed­nes­day af­ter learn­ing about the newrule on­line.

Even some el­derly peo­ple ap­proved of the de­ci­sion.

“It’s true that we gather here to so­cial­ize with our peers. But the last thing we want is to cause trou­ble and be­come a dis­grace,” said a 76-year-old Shang­hai na­tive who would only give his sur­name, Qiu.

The re­tired au­to­mo­bile fac­tory worker has rit­u­ally come to Ikea with his wife for so­cial­iz­ing three times a week for two years.

Ikea said in its writ­ten re­sponse that there had been mis­be­hav­ior that had to get lo­cal po­lice in­volved.

A cup of cof­fee is priced at 5 yuan at the Ikea-owned restau­rant for non­mem­bers, half the cost at many fast food chains and one-sixth the cost at Star­bucks.

But Qiu said it wasn’t about the money.

“We’ve been to McDon­ald’s and KFC. But there are barely any peers there,” he said. “We feel like aliens there — sur­rounded by young­sters. If there is an­other place in Shang­hai where el­derly peo­ple can gather, we are more than ready topay twice as­muc­hand travel far­ther.”

The cou­ple live alone and learned of the Ikea restau­rant two years ago from a young neigh­bor who sug­gested they look for friends there.

A sur­vey con­ducted by Ren­min Univer­sity of China that was re­leased in­March showed that half of the el­derly aged above age 60 in China live alone, and a quar­ter of those said they feel lonely.

The last thing we want is to cause trou­ble and be­come a dis­grace.” A 76-year-old Shang­hai na­tive sur­named Qiu

YIN LIQIN / FOR CHINA DAILY

El­derly peo­ple so­cial­ize out­side a restau­rant op­er­ated by Swedish fur­ni­ture gi­ant Ikea in Shang­hai’s Xuhui dis­trict on Tues­day.

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