feature image
What you might lose in-house, you can make up for in takeaway, with the right offering.

Article By Robert Marlowe, Cafe Culture

What changes should cafés think about in the next 12 months;

Cashless clientele, capacity, bookings, social distancing, masks, marketing, community, technology! What is going to make the difference to survive and thrive?

I left work on the 18th December, aiming to travel from NSW to VIC (via Sydney), to visit my family in Beechworth for Christmas. I had a clear idea that on my return to work in the 2021 New Year, my ambitious plans for producing coffee roasting competitions, and other marketing exploits would be full steam ahead. In the very same breath of mapping out my immediate future, the Northern Beaches Covid fiasco was reported and within 24 hrs I had called off my travels and to be somewhat dramatic, Christmas was cancelled.

It was in this moment that reality kicked in!

The knowledge that 2020 was behind us had no relevance on the spread of Covid and any new strains or challenges that it might throw at the café industry in the future. It was just a continuation of what we had already tackled and like me, most independent café owners would be working in trepidation of what was to come – difficult to know how best to diversify ones business to guarantee prosperity!

Responses from most folk I speak to are relief to be residing in Australia, where we are faring far better than most countries. However, there are some gross hypocritical government directives that smack of double standards and enrage small business owners, whose welfare could be at the brunt of such decisions.

While interstate travellers were cancelling their Christmas breaks due to state border closures and the outbreak of the Avalon cluster, putting the N Beaches into lockdown, Australia welcomed the Indian cricket team to the SCG, along with an attendance of 10,000 fans!! And even though I’m a tennis fan, the idea of Djokovic taking centre stage with his colleagues and entourage at the Australian Open, is less than thrilling for Victorians. Don’t get me started on the refusal of applications for exemption permits on the grounds of compassion.

Image source:Phil Whitehouse from London, United Kingdom, CC BY 2.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

The main threat to our existence is ‘hard lockdown’!

With or without the government grants, however shrewd one is in business, it is hard to forecast or predict how to overcome this real and eminent threat. It seems that Australia has separated themselves physically and politically by states and I suggest that NSW & VIC, with their capital cities, are more vulnerable than other states who are cherry picking their visitors.

So, what changes should cafés think about in the next 12 months; cashless clientele, capacity, bookings, social distancing, masks, marketing, community, technology! What is going to make the difference to survive and thrive?

If there were a definitive answer I wouldn’t be sitting here writing articles, I would surely be walking on water, turning water to wine. However, learning from our 2020 experiences I think some challenges can be easily overcome with common sense and by following legislation guidelines. It’s identifying the things that can be controlled, sometimes identified as the 1% ers that may be the difference between make or break.

I recommend that cafés reflect on their food propositions.

It’s well reported that Aussies are splurging on food delivery platforms, so what you might lose in-house, you can make up for in takeaway, with the right offering.

Never have Australians been so happy to reside on an island. This lack of international travel has led many to the realisation that Australia has some some of the best rainforests, beaches and mountainous countryside in the world. This has led to a stronger and important mentality of ‘buy local, support local’. We need to encourage our local councils and communities to persuade the constituents to do just that.

Fiona Barden, from the Coffs Harbour City Council, said they are encouraging the community to get involved in helping the local businesses keep going.

“The council is promoting buying local and supporting local businesses and making sure everyone knows what cafés and restaurants are still open,” she said.

“We have also implemented ways to assist people in terms of rates, and some costs linked to food-related businesses have been temporarily suspended during this time.

“We are also planning to arrange special pick-up zones out the front of certain businesses to allow people to just pick something up and keep going.”

On-line communities have sprung up to help direct consumers to cafés.

A fine example of this is in Port Macquarie, on the New South Wales Mid North Coast. Ellen Crepaz has created a Facebook page called Port Macquarie EaTs, where local food outlets can post if they are still open.

“I wanted to help local businesses advise people if they now do takeaway or delivery, so basically it’s connecting eateries with the locals,” she said.

“We have had an overwhelming response — we’ve had the page up for a week and we are close to 6,000 members and we are getting 60 to 80 posts a day, it has been fantastic … food brings people together!”

Staff is a large expense to any business, so maybe business owners can take on more themselves.

Commercial kitchens can be used as an avenue to create another revenue stream, by sub leasing or picking up local catering jobs. A local café of mine has sub leased their commercial kitchen after hours to a cold press juicing mob, while one of my great friends and café owner has picked up catering for the local SES and firefighters.

Cafés are community-based operations and whatever business I have ever been involved with, communication is always paramount to success. Whether via social platforms like Facebook/Instagram, or more localised messaging on message boards, reach out to local businesses or institutions to offer them your support. They might be in need of a meeting room on neutral grounds that offers great coffee and cake. Local sports clubs will always require support and loyalty buys loyalty!

Diversity and nurturing different channels is important.

Have a drink special of the day. There’s a huge selection of frappe, chocolate, smoothie, chai recipes that will tantalise the tastebuds. I’ve never seen chewing gum or mints available near the POS of a café to build incremental sales. There’s always a huge market for on-trend products in the fridge or counter and identifying what floats the boat of the demographic of your clientele is important.

When it comes to the crunch though, what will underpin everything will never change; doing the small things super well! Offer quality coffee, have a good team that is bright, offers exceptional and efficient customer service and consistency, which will keep your customers coming back and by default keep the business afloat. Monitor food costs and keep control of all profit and loss. Offer a great ambiance that invites your clientele to have that extra drink or piece of cake.

This article will be a work in progress for the next 12 months and what I would really like to get is feedback from you, the independent café owner readership, who lives and breathes through these challenges everyday. After all, no one knows your business better than you.

I’m at your disposal for any feedback, please be in direct contact via email – rob@cafeculture.com. Make sure you subscribe to our weekly newsletter to keep up to date on the latest cafe and coffee news.