1493189277087 - Secrets to surviving the cafe war

Secrets to surviving the cafe war

With a glut of cafes due to open in Christchurch over the coming months, many may be facing a fight to the death as they scrap for customers.

It was revealed on Tuesday that in that just three locations – The Terrace, King Edward Barracks and Hoyts EntX – 30 hospitality outlets are due to open over the next year.

Some have closed and others are said to be teetering on the brink on the back of high rents, road works, more competition and a lack of patrons.

Cafe experts say whether cafes live or die comes down to five key factors.

1. Be personable.

Taking advice from 80s sitcoms is not usually recommended, but there are always exceptions to the rule.

Cheers, the beloved show starring Ted Danson about a bar in Boston owned by an irreverent retired Major League baseball pitcher, has something to offer Christchurch’s cafe owners.

The famous line from theme tune was a place “where everybody knows your name, and they’re always glad you came”. 

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As it turns out, people really appreciate this exact kind of personal touch, according to Johnny Gibson, editor of lifestyle website Neat Places.

“If you come in in the morning and people know your name and what coffee you want, that’s important. People want that interaction.”

In short, it’s the “vibe” of the place that gets people going.

Stuff cafe reviewer Laura Baker says capturing this vibe distinguishes one cafe from the next.

“You do need to stand out in this industry at the moment. That does attract people who want to go to a cool place, or be seen in a cool place.”

2. Be owner-operated.

In Cheers, Danson’s character Sam Malone was the owner-operator of the bar. As it turns out, that is also correct advice for Christchurch’s cafe owners.

Coffee in New Zealand has evolved into a personable, cottage-type industry, quite distinct from the tendency for many industries to skew towards the generic and corporate.

Gibson says cafes where the owner is actually working in the cafe tend to do well.

Branded coffee chains never have the same connection to customers, he says.

“When you look at multi-national or national brands, you know they’re just opening in a new location to make money. You want something a bit more special.”

3. Be in a good spot.

It’s one of the least exciting tips but location can be crucial, much as it was for the Cheers bar in the centre of Boston, Massachussetts.

Baker says cafes situated near offices in town are in the prime location.

“If you’re not located in a large office building that has got people coming in regularly, if you’re in an out of the way location, you won’t get people in the door the same way.”

3. Be the special snowflake.

In Cheers, Malone’s irreverence contrasted delightfully with Diane’s straight-edgedness, Carla’s one-liners and Norm’s drunkenness, thus attracting customers.

Sticking your neck out and giving people something different is always a winning strategy for cafes, Gibson says.

“The story is really important. People want a different experience.”

Addington Coffee Co-op, the highest rating cafe in Christchurch according to website TripAdvisor, is an example of a story that people buy.

Started by a group of friends keen to push the boundaries of traditional capitalism, the cafe operates like something of a commune where it redistributes 70 per cent of it profits back to its coffee producers overseas.

But there’s a caveat to the “special snowflake” rule, Gibson says. If a cafe gets its novelty aspect wrong, it turns into a gimmick. And people can always spot a gimmick.

5. The no-brainer: Good coffee and food.

While it may seem obvious to Johnny Public, getting the actual coffee and food right is vital. Gibson says this is what will ensure people will come back.

“Quality of product is key. New cafes will always have people coming in but whether those people come back is determined by quality of product.”

Baker says the presentation of food is also key.

“If it looks good on a the plate, that’s helpful.”

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