THE CAFE: when it’s more than COFFEE

In Business Sense, Cafe Culture Pt 1

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For us who find lounging around leisurely on weekends and off days as life’s little luxuries; the idea of an early morning breakfast will not be entertained. Hence “brunch”it will be! First coined in 1895 by Guy Beringer, he said “Brunch is cheer ful, sociable and inciting. It is talk-compelling. It puts you in a good temper, it makes you satisfied with yourself and your fellow beings, it sweeps away the worries and cobwebs of the week.” This meal has characterised many cafes of today to offer menus that play around with the notion of regularly eaten breakfast foods and combining it with heavier lunch fare. With the expansion from a traditional coffeeshop, society is now able to have longer casual or business meetings and get their nourishment at the same time. Perhaps the most accurate description would be Café Procope at 13 rue de l’Ancienne Comédie, opened in 1686 in Paris. It might as well be credited for setting the tone for the city’s cafes that generally come with a complete kitchen to prepare a restaurant menu for any time of day alongside a full bar and some even having a wine collection. In its early days, cafes in Paris was the hub for the intellect or people of high places to gather and is now a common place for families and friends to gather.

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Of course, it isn’t limited to brunch and most menus are tailored to be suitable for all-day (diners have taken a liking to all-day breakfasts that give them an option of a lighter meal during dinner). Cafes may also give out a dinner menu that could be a little more posh and elaborate taking into account guests are more inclined to take their time during dinner and not mind the small increase in price. Over the years, enterprising business owners have come up with new concepts to depict what cafes mean to them. They created identities that stand out and many are a combination of their hobbies and food, some even merge useful services to their cafes. Some examples of combination concepts of cafes around the world include:

thecafe4• Cafes for cyclists – in Sonic Café, Toronto, cyclists can do their DIY repair and grab a cup of joe and a snack while in Grumpy Cyclist (Malaysia), one can shower before settling down to a meal.
• Waiting for laundry? Have a meal, cakes, coffee, tea, milkshake, juice or even beer at the Laundromat Café in Copenhagen, Denmark.
• Cat lovers will love the Lady Dinah’s Cat Emporium in London, UK where furry felines cosy up to you.
• Food and fashion often marry well too
• The disaster cafe in Spain where simulated earthquakes may occur during a meal. Its structure can withstand a 7.8 earthquake and while heavy tableware are used, it does not guarantee against spillage.
thecafe5The idea of a cafe is so broad, versatile and tends to be expressed through experiences curated by the establishment. Given that vast canvas to tell one’s story, it isn’t a stretch to add bistronomy as a sub-section of cafe culture. Deriving from bistro + gastronomy, it is generally defined as casual fine dining comprising simple decor and quality food. The bistronomy movement began somewhere in 1992 when a Yves Camberbord, training at a Michelin-level restaurant took a contradicting route and opened a small establishment on Paris’ outskirts which looked like a grandmother’s kitchen -bare walls, unlined tables and lace curtains. In that setting, he served high end cuisine but at very low prices to enable affordability and to keep the conviviality of dining together alive. Bearing in mind that during the 90s, French cuisine’s reputation was in somewhat of a slump and the bistronomy expression offered a new perspective which is still relevant today as we will read various success stories in the following pages.

thecafe6COMMUNICATING THROUGH ENVIRONMENT
With cafe business being relatively easy to enter, it also means having to work hard to get returning customers. It is about finding your voice that resonates with your intended clientele; expressed through the food, the touch of service and the ambience. Firstly, do you know their regular routine? If you are in a location that serves a clientele of ladies who either run their own business or their time are invested around children; what would they appreciate? Bright environments with spaces enough to work, have discussions or maybe even an element of child-friendliness? If you are within an environment where suit-and-ties dwell, a cafe with strong, sleek lines that project structure would be able to blend into the corporates’ personality and they would really appreciate quick-response and efficient service.

We can go on about the possibilities of your cafe’s type of crowd but safe to say that in food business; and in this competitive segment, you want to speak to the right people. This is further emphasised by social researcher Hugh McKay “we’re beginning to understand and appreciate the sense of identity and security we get from being part of the herd – part of a tribe”. Part of the reason for returning customers is when they see like-minded people sharing the same agreement that a particular place is good thus they feel assured of their choices.

Still on ambience, cafes have become go-to spots for the increasingly entrepreneurial generation who shun conventional cubicles and the trend resounds across the world. To this end, cafes ought to encourage productivity and one of the ways is with background (ambient) noise. According to a survey done at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign that tested the effects of varying levels of noise on participants’ creative thinking skills; it was found that the group exposed to a moderate level of ambient noise per formed significantly better. Having said that, it usually applies to creative thinking as extreme quiet tends to sharpen focus which prevents thinking in the abstract; said Dr. Ravi Mehta, the lead researcher. A good level of ambient noise distracts you just enough to “think outside the box”. Of course it is not just related to thinking but who likes to have their conversation drowned out by loud music?

In terms of creating the coveted ‘feel’ of a cafe, we will discuss more with professionals on cafe interior in the Solution Provider segment. Remember; your cafe environment needs ‘you’. Much as you are busy detailing it for diners, remember that is also an expression of who you are; because only when you like it can you extend the welcome to your customers.

Eileen ChanTHE CAFE: when it’s more than COFFEE