“Hey can you watch my stuff for a second?”

– A person at Starbucks before they go to the bathroom

For game theory reasons, asking one stranger at Starbucks to watch your laptop while you run off to the bathroom is a bad idea. Here’s what doing so presumes:

  1. There are people at Starbucks looking for unattended property and hoping to snag it


    There are people who aren’t actively looking for unattended stuff but once they see it, they decide it’s too good an opportunity to pass up so they take it.

  2. One of these people could be deterred by the random person “watching” your stuff.

  3. The random person you ask is not one of these people.

I posit that the people described in number 1 do not exist in high numbers. If they do exist at all, they are aware of the “watch my stuff” culture that exists at Starbucks. They would be game-theory optimal (most successful) by sitting next to people with laptops and waiting to be asked to watch them. Because they would know that no one else was keeping an eye on those things. The optimal Starbucks theft strategy is:

  1. Go to Starbucks

  2. Wait until someone asks you to watch their stuff.

  3. Take their stuff.

Therefore, it makes more sense to just go to the bathroom without asking anyone to do anything for you. You avoid giving a potential thief 100% certainty that they can get away with taking your stuff.

Asking two different strangers to watch over your stuff, however, is probably the game theory optimal way to protect your belongings at Starbucks. People just might look at you funny.