The Humble High Street Cafe as a Benchmark for Dining in Retail Precincts

Dining precincts around the world, whether as a component of a retail centre or other development, have reached new heights not only in their design appearance and strategic masterplanning but largely due to the high calibre of operators now servicing these precincts. According to a report by the International Council of Shopping Centres (ICSC), this transformation has been pushed by Millennials who are committing their spend to high-quality food, in a well-designed environment, with a clean food chain and locally sourced product. This push has caused hospitality businesses and precincts to reflect on the values they embody and the type of food they dish up. Looking around, there is one type of food outlet found outside the food court that consistently meets these customer expectations and is becoming a suitable benchmark for the way in which food operators conduct themselves and precinct management services an area. That outlet is the much-loved, local cafe.

 Studio Aisslinger's  Kantini at Bikini Berlin  - a concept shopping centre that purports to be Europe’s first design food court  image and cover image via Frame

Studio Aisslinger's Kantini at Bikini Berlin - a concept shopping centre that purports to be Europe’s first design food court image and cover image via Frame

With Future Food being Melbourne-based, we never have to walk far to get a good coffee or food in a low-key yet well designed space. The cafe culture is so alive in this city that you can expect to be served some of the best food you’ll eat all day first thing in the morning. There is no doubt that this outlet category is so successful because it is hitting the mark on so much of what people want from their food and hospitality experience. You get clean, honest and local food in a space that exudes a sense of community, casualness and comfort. So how does the humble cafe do it?

 

Firstly, a successful cafe business always has ambience. The sense of the space is often casual, always warm and design generally plays a key role in setting the mood. Take Au79 in Abbotsford in Melbourne - it’s bright, light and bubbly the moment you walk in with bold colours of pastel green, pink and copper throughout. This directly reflects the menu which is a vibrant mix of traditional cafe fare combined with Asian influences (breakfast bao and okonomiyaki sit beside chilli scrambled eggs and it works perfectly). You get a great sense of what you’re about to experience from the moment you enter the space which is an extremely important part of the customer journey and creating positive customer experience. Like Au79, many cafes in Melbourne and around the world have created a space that humbly and wholy reflects what they are all about.

Secondly, service is personal yet professional (for the most part, anyway!). Unlike fine dining restaurants, cafes have the opportunity to provide customer service that isn’t too rigid and focuses on being fun and social. This is due to the nature of the cafe and what the customer wants out of visiting one. They don’t expect waiters dressed in white shirts and napkins to be laid at their table but they do expect a friendly smile, a knowledge of the menu and provenance and potentially an interesting conversation. This is a highly desired aspect of food experiences nowadays with more people seeking human connection outside their homes and offices where worlds can become too digitally-driven and disconnected.

Lastly, the food is wholesome, refined with a touch of roughness and generally made from ingredients which support local farmers and producers. This is because cafes aren’t out to be the finest dining experience with the rarest ingredients on the plate, they are there to provide customers with local comfort food outside the home. From basic smashed avocado on toast all the way through to elaborate truffled eggs on house-made flatbread, the key to the cafe menu is that it provides nostalgic meals which each cafe puts their own personal and updated touch on.

  Merchants of Ultimo  situated in Broadway Shopping Centre in Glebe Sydney - a food collective servicing the centre and surrounds   image via TripAdvisor

Merchants of Ultimo situated in Broadway Shopping Centre in Glebe Sydney - a food collective servicing the centre and surrounds image via TripAdvisor

These aspects of a cafe are important in today’s food and hospitality environment. They are some of the key components of what people, particularly the up and coming generations with money to spend, are asking for from their food and beverage operators and for that reason, it is the humble cafe that is elevating the way in which food precincts and their operators masterplan and service their customers. To draw people off the high street and into retail centres, the food businesses inside are looking to match the experience that cafes and the loved local haunts are offering and that includes the atmosphere, the menu and the service.