It has come to my attention recently that there are people in the world who do not know what I am about to tell you, no matter how bleedingly obvious it might seem.
When you patronize giant, faceless retail chains, you are fairly free to behave as a freeloader. Denny's has already factored into their prices that tables full of bored teenagers will linger for three hours after their meal, and Wal-Mart doesn't suffer if you spend hours in the store and buy nothing. You can show up to Free Sample Day at your chain grocer of choice, eat all the free samples, and leave without buying anything. Hell, I fondly remember one summer in which I lived in a rental unit with no air conditioning, and I regularly spent entire days in Borders without buying anything. Maybe it's my fault they went under, but probably not.
These rules change when you patronize a Small Business. I mean a real one, owned by a person who's usually standing behind the cash register. When you go to Bob's Coffee Shop, order a small Americano for $0.89, and proceed to sit there for four hours, you are being kind of a dick. Starbucks can handle it because their profit margins are high and they do incredible volume. Bob might only get 100 customers in a day, and he's relying on the fact that they're not going to take the most they can out of his establishment while spending the least possible money. Yes, part of the reason you go to a coffee shop is to sit around for a long time. That's cool. But maybe buy something. Bob's not running a public park.
That's not the worst thing you can do, though. That would be the following.
A local bar owner told me a tale recently of a group of customers who came in drunk, announced that they had spent the evening getting liquored up at a different bar, and asked to be served water for an hour so they could sober up enough to drive home. Don't do that, ever. If one person in a group of bar patrons wants to sip water all night while the others drink, that's cool. That's responsible, even. But a group of people taking up real estate at a bar and expecting to hang out without buying anything…what the hell is that? Who thinks that's OK? Apparently some of you do. Would you go into a restaurant, ask for a table, and then refuse to order anything? If you answered "yes", maybe double-check to see if you are an asshole.
How do people not get this? A place of business is not a public hangout. No, you shouldn't feel compelled to buy something every time you walk in the door. But these people are not operating a charity, they are operating a business and they would like to make enough money to 1) stay open and 2) live indoors. Maybe don't expect them to do things for you for free.
I'm glad we had this talk.