Cafe Ironies

Kevin prefers a quiet one...
Kevin prefers a quiet one...

In an entry with the same title on my blog, I detailed my experience at The Coffee Bean recently that didn’t quite start nicely but ended off pretty intellectually. I’m quoting the gist here:

I approached the counter with a maths worksheet in my hand (I was planning to work out some problems there while I sipped on the tea since I had some spare time on my hand and needed to exercise my mind) and made my order. The young man serving me immediately asked if I intended to sit around to study.

I commented that I’ll probably be around for half an hour and asked if it’ll be a problem. He replied that there’s an event downstairs and they anticipate a crowd so they discourage people from studying at the cafe. I kept quiet and took my receipt. I thought that the Large Chai Latte should at least buy me 30 minutes of time at the cafe.

This post is a discussion seeks to answer the question: “If a cafe wants to maximize their profits from a crowd and yet is limited by their available seats, how do they discourage people from studying there besides using attitude (which I assume is something I experienced)?” So before answering that question, we list out the factors that would encourage one to study at the cafe and see if there’s anything we can do to manipulate them:

Things that encourage one to study at a cafe

  • Good lighting; makes reading comfortable
  • Extremely hot or cold drink; takes you longer to drink and the taste of the drink don’t change that rapidly over time which means more excuse to stay at the cafe longer
  • Quality drinks; makes for nice beverage while you study and you probably won’t mind ordering one more and staying longer
  • Comfortable seats; allows you to study comfortably and sit at the cafe for longer time without feeling discomfort physically.

Technically speaking, removing any of these would help to reduce the time people stay around the cafe and also discourage studying. On the other hand, attitude (on part of the service staff) won’t help to reduce the determination of people studying at the cafe. In fact, it turns off people who genuinely just want to chill at the cafe for a while without discouraging the studying students. When one plans to stay at the cafe for a long time to study and sip on drinks, service at the counter makes up only a small part of the experience, whereas for customers who are interested to get a good drink and sit for a while, the service at the counter makes up half of the experience. In other words, giving people attitude is the worst possible solution compared to removing any of the above.

I strongly recommend the dimming of lighting, which doesn’t harm people out to relax but makes studying tedious and difficult. But this is not always possible since The Coffee Bean that I went to utilizes the in-building lighting that they probably have no control over. It’s not wise to compromise the quality of the drinks since it sends out the wrong messages and is disastrously difficult to control. That leaves us with modifying the seats.

I got this idea when I was at Saizeriya Restaurant at Liang Court; they feature a drinks bar where you pay about $6 bucks or so and get to drink lots of different drinks and it’s free flow – literally a drinks buffet. At first, I wondered why the seats there were so narrow and small; the cushion were thin and not exactly comfortable with prolonged sitting. Later I rationalized it as a means to get people out of the restaurant as soon as they’re done with the food. Of course it’s not going to put off people determined to try all the drinks, but at least they’ll finish with their affair and get out fast.

So here’s some prescription for cafes who hopes to attract people there for a drink and to sit around for a while (after all, if the cafe was empty you might think the drinks suck) but discourage students from spending their entire day studying there, the best move would be to adjust lighting according to your needs to adjust demand. Where this is not possible, modify the seats to make prolonged sitting uncomfortable.

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