Benches are in.
Shoreditch is littered with them. I recently moved and am learning that, when I walk anywhere, I am sharing half of the pavement with endless benches. Even Urban Outfitters has one. Only outside the Spitalfields branch, because East London is now a bench hub.
Benches are lovely. It is delightful, especially in central London, to see a vacant bench – or just anywhere to sit down. I’m lucky to live in a location that makes for excellent people watching and where better to do it from than a bench? Yet I’ve noticed that a lot of them remain vacant and untouched and I think people are confused.
The Bench Situation would make more sense if it was directly related to The In-Store Espresso Bar Thing.
Try to imagine a scenario where you would have a coffee in a shop. ‘Hold it as you browse’ you say. Think about it. Now think about East London boutiques. You can’t walk around with a hot, dark drink near all the artisanal, handcrafted and curated wares. Not without a bearded chap in navy cableknit asking you to finish it first.
So, for these places, a bench is ideal. You have the option to sit outside and enjoy the coffee. Bit cold though. The other option is to sit at the bar itself and make small talk with the barista.
It’s a nice idea in principle; a warm welcome into the store. It’s also a bit like when you hold off eating your dinner until you’ve rewound the programme to exactly where you last watched it – you want to do the things you like at the same time. I like coffee and I like shopping. I get it.
But what of the shops that got the bench memo but not the espresso? What are they up to? What’s the bench etiquette? Can anyone sit on the bench? Can you sit there knowing that you will never enter the shop? Can you drink coffee there? Can you smoke? What’s the longest you can occupy the bench for?
Maybe the answer is to have an exit-only door at the back of the shop. The bench sits outside this door and only people who have entered the shop can access it. Then we all know where we stand. Or sit.