12 February 2018

Service - what service? Good café - bad café

| Paul Costigan
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Photo: Paul Costigan.

It only usually takes a moment to gauge what sort of service you are to receive when you enter a café.

That friendly gesture, that greeting or even something about the ambience in that first few seconds, can say a lot.

Canberra has an abundance of good cafés – and unfortunately a good café one day does not always mean a good café next time.

Staff changes can mean a lot.

One café I frequent runs very well when the owners are on the floor. They seem to get it. They greet and make sure you understand they are keen to ensure you enjoy the visit – and therefore spend your cash.

However, the same café has a couple of casual staff who definitely don’t get it. They see their job as taking the order, placing it in front of you and taking away the empties – all done while refusing to engage beyond the minimum necessary to get through the day. Luckily they are not always there.

Around Dickson, the business of running a café or a take-away service seems to have become very tough – for some at least.

We have seen one take-away change several times in the last couple of years – and now it has been empty for about six months.

Then there is the sad tale of the new kid on the block. A couple of years ago, one of the long-stay cafés was replaced by the modern Bean and Grain. Trouble being it has now – been and gone! The only two times I ventured there I would have to say the service was not good.

Meanwhile, the three cafés nearby have continued to do well. In fact, as you venture through the part of the shops, it is interesting to observe the different clientele who frequent each – and how it changes through the day.

There are times when the retirees gather – often in great numbers – being those who used to also frequent the former cafe till it changed. Guess they did not take to the loud music with the new modern approach. Someone’s loss was certainly another’s gain.

Photo: Paul Costigan.

A recent incident concerns a café on the way back from Sydney. Stopped off at 3:30 pm – read the sign – closes at 4 pm – so we were in luck. Not so. The usual friendly owners were not in and instead we were greeted with: ‘Hullo – we close at four’. ‘No problems – could we have a quick tea and a cake?’ ‘But we close at four’ – was the response. ‘No problem we will be back on the road by then, could we have a quick tea and cake?’ ‘Well – maybe – but we close at four!’

We left with a new understanding of ‘we close at four’. There are other cafés with friendlier staff.

A new kid on the block is Gang Gang over in Downer. For people who need to drive to meet up, it is ideal as the parking is free and on a good day you can sit outside.

I have noticed a growing number of people have joined the locals to catch up – or even sit at the large outside benched seating to have meetings.

Trouble is, while all the outside seating offers great ambience, it can be spoilt by dog owners who have dogs that want to bark and run about. Yep, we have dogs off leash often when that is not supposed to happen.

On that note, I was pleased to see a café in Holbrook (on the way to Melbourne) that has a sign in its side area (outside) that says, ‘no dogs in this area, dogs in the front area only’ (being on the footpath side).

Good to see a café that recognises that while some people do not mind having dogs around their food and coffee, others prefer to go without the experience of other people’s pets.

The other variation to your experience on entering a café unknown to you can be if it is frequented in large numbers by workers (public servants and/or other professionals). These venues develop their own codes and protocols on how and where you queue, how orders are taken and how food and drink is served. More often than not, if you do not quickly work out the protocol that applies, things can get awkward.

With the ongoing proliferation of cafés across Canberra, there is a great mix of foods on offer (wonderful), a range of good to very ordinary coffee being poured (not so good at times) and in the end, the experience (and whether you return) depends on the quality of the service staff.

It is in the quality of service, human interaction, that some are doing well (eg Hudson’s in Dickson) while others, unfortunately, vary greatly.

Admittedly, if the staff are not family members or somehow related, it may then depend on what staff are paid and how they are treated.

And that is a whole other story – that others may be able to respond to with their comments. Over to you.

What experiences have you had at cafés in Canberra? Share them with us by commenting below.

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Seems we all have ultra high expectations for what a café should and shouldn’t be – plus everyone’s an expert these days on what’s a “good” coffee.

Put the shoe on the other foot. Owning and running a café is a grind, pun intended. It’s a lot of work for not a lot of money. It’s tiring and monotonous. Everyone wants a trendy local café to treat as part of their own lounge room; but nobody actually wants to work there. Good young staff are hard to find and it’s always a revolving door when it comes to skilled cooks and baristas.

If “Good young staff are hard to find”, why not employ ‘good older staff’, or does ‘older’ automatically eliminate them? It appears to and this comment backs that up. Older people are often not considered. I am no longer looking for a job, but one of the worse examples I faced (as an older person), was of one employer who come out to meet me, saw me and turned and walked away. I could see the shock on the face of the person who had fetched her. I wasn’t the ‘young’ person she wanted. I dress well, present well, and am physically able.

Capital Retro8:43 am 14 Feb 18

Nothing wrong with Maccas at Erindale.

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