An IKEA in Shanghai has recently banned senior citizens from sitting in its cafeteria unless they order food. Staff at the furniture retailer’s Xuhui district store posted the notice after customers complained about hordes of elderly people disrupting their dining experience. The seniors are alleged to have been speaking too loudly, taking up seats for excessive periods of time and bringing in their own food.
But there might be a more salacious reason why elderly Shanghairen were assembling in IKEA: According to Chinese media reports, the store in question was being used as a hunting ground by lonely single seniors every Tuesday and Thursday.
IKEA is, we suppose, as good a place as any to find romance. But unfortunately for Shanghai’s elderly lovebirds, the new rule means they’ll first have to throw down a few kuai at the canteen.
Things are a little different in Beijing, however. A Tuesday visit to IKEA Xihongmen confirmed that “pay before you sit” polices are not being enacted in either of the city’s branches.
An IKEA cafe employee on the second floor tells us: “Beijing customers are well-behaved. IKEA offers complimentary coffee in the dining area here. They used to offer it in Shanghai but too many people would take advantage of it, so they stopped.
“Before the minimum spending rules were put into place in Shanghai, the old people would be there all day, morning till night, without spending even one fen,” she continues. “Now they must spend at least 10 kuai.”
The issue of using IKEA as a pick-up spot hasn’t extended to the capital either, the employee reassures us. “Laobeijing come here to drink coffee with their family. They are more likely to spend time in parks for recreation. But Shanghai people don’t go to parks, they just go to IKEA.”
We visit the canteen on the third floor to see for ourselves. Buzzing with activity and saturated with the delicious aroma of Swedish meatballs, it’s easy to see why people of any age would come here.
There is indeed a freestanding – and unmanned – coffee machine in the center of the canteen. Cups appear to be absent though, which is perhaps one way of stopping people from abusing free coffee privileges.
There doesn’t seem to be any senior citizens dining alone here. Most are accompanied by small children or (what appears to be) their significant others.
We sit next to an elderly woman who’s eating a plate of chicken wings and drinking a cup of coffee. She seems nice. (“Why aren’t you drinking a cup of coffee?” she asks us.) But alas, Liu is already married and merely looking for a duvet.
“I like walking around the store and then enjoying a meal here,” she says. “Single elderly people in Shanghai go to IKEA for dates because it’s a nice environment with warm drink and food. But if you look around the Beijing IKEA, you can see there’s no one here on a date.”
As Liu says this, an elderly man plops down onto the empty seat next to us. We eye him shiftily. After several minutes of awkward silence, the man gets up to leave.
Perhaps he'd be better off trying his luck at the park.