January 2, 2006


The Swedish Feeding Trough: Furniture giant IKEA lures customers with homey interior landscapes and cheap warm meals. But more and more people are starting to use the stores as an ersatz for social services and babysitting. (Gerald Drissner, 1/02/06, Der Spiegel)

Cheap and cheerful furniture isn't the only attraction at the Swedish-run IKEA chain: cheap eats and free babysitting are also customer magnets.

Every day, at 8.50 am, Bodo Scheel gets into his Nissan car, his stomach rumbling with hunger, and drives 11.3 kilometers down the A7 highway near Hamburg. He turns off at junction 23 to reach his destination: the Ikea furniture store. The 67-year-old pensioner has been coming to the restaurant in Ikea for breakfast for years now. The deal is unbeatable: For €1.50 he gets two bread rolls, butter, cold cuts and cheese, jam and even smoked salmon. As much coffee as he can drink is also thrown in. "You can take the bread rolls home and they are still okay to eat three days later with a tin of tuna," Scheel, who used to work as a judicial officer, says. "Tastes great."

The pensioner and his wife are not the only ones who have turned going to the furniture shop into a daily ritual. In the western German cities of Cologne and Bielefeld there are even specially organized breakfast clubs. From Munich in the south to Kiel in the north, Ikea is increasingly turning into a welfare center for pensioners, young moms, low-earners and the unemployed.

Many low-earners prefer eating in the familiar atmosphere of this temple to consumption to standing in line at the soup kitchen. Indeed, the stigma of poverty is hidden behind the company's cheep and cheerful designs. What started out as an extra service to improve customer loyalty, has developed a life of its own, separate from the shaky wooden furniture and fold-out sofas. Many people feel that they belong when they mingle among well-off customers -- even if all they can afford is a hot dog.

Given its image as the anti-Wal-Mart, the Left should find this at least tolerable, no?

Posted by Orrin Judd at January 2, 2006 11:40 AM

Actually, this is exactly like many Wal~Mart Supercenters, which have McDonald's franchises built in.

While the cost is 33% higher than the IKEA meal deal, for $ 3, tax included, you can get two sausage biscuits, jam, butter, and all of the coffee you can drink, plus you can mingle with slightly-more-well-off customers, which seems to be the main point of the excursion for the featured pensioner.

After all, if cost were the main issue, he and his wife could eat at home for slightly less, and also save the expense of the 15-mile round trip in his dehumanizing evilmobile.

Posted by: Michael Herdegen at January 2, 2006 12:15 PM

If he sells his car, he will be able to afford better meals and save (regain?) his soul at the same time. I have always been an advocate of banning elderly drivers during rush hour, or preferably altogether, but only today have I realized how enlightened that position really is.

Posted by: Daran at January 2, 2006 12:29 PM

This is merely more evidence that man is a social creature. The fact is that these folks go there because they want to feel they are part of society (or something).

All of us would rather be part of something, even if it's watching your civilzation waste away in a WalKeaMart.

Wal Marts use of Senior Greeters is at least as ingenious as the cheap meal. The idiot left call this exploitation, while the people doing the greeting probably relish the opportunity to be among the living.

Another lesson is that - !AGAIN! - engines of Capitalism serve and meet "socialist" desires/ends better than socialism ever could hope to.

Posted by: Bruno at January 2, 2006 12:40 PM


Except that Wal-Mart is evil and IKEA good, don'tya know....

Posted by: oj at January 2, 2006 2:11 PM

ikea products are garbage, at any price. they are for people who want to recreate the look of a catalog in their little batchelor/batchelorette pads. i wouldn't even buy their stuff for my kids' rooms. hopefully the food they serve is of a better quality.

Posted by: flatpack toe at January 2, 2006 2:50 PM

My ancestors risked life and limb to escape to America in order to flee that kind of furniture.

Posted by: Timothy at January 2, 2006 3:43 PM

You correct about the furniture, but they have great knick knacks.

After searching high and low for a good stainless steel hanging pot rack that fit with our island hood, (some ugly as sin and $600-1000), we found two $8 stainless tubes that looked better than anything on the market.

They have good gadgets.

Posted by: Bruno at January 2, 2006 4:14 PM

I wouldn't buy much of any furniture at IKEA, but they did have a small wooden chest of drawers for $40, which is cheaper than I've seen elsewhere. I can't even get wooden furniture at WalMart

Posted by: sharon at January 2, 2006 5:42 PM

"You can take the bread rolls home and they are still okay to eat three days later with a tin of tuna," Scheel, who used to work as a judicial officer, says. "Tastes great."

That's about the saddest thing ever.

Why can't the soup kitches start selling crappy furniture?

Posted by: RC at January 3, 2006 1:53 AM

IKEA is great for dorm rooms. It will last for 8 months and not be worth moving. I hope they are better at baby sitting than they are at furniture.

Posted by: Robert Schwartz at January 5, 2006 7:46 PM