I used to spend a lot of time in coffee shops. It was the time spent in these spaces where I observed the multitude of social activities and interactions taking place. It was these observations, combined with an interest in why there were so many coffee shops appearing that prompted my journey into researching and writing about this industry.
One of the first ideas I wanted to write about related to coffee shops was how they acted as ‘spaces of community’. I wrote a brief report about this, and have some articles on this concept under review, and who knows they may actually get published at some point. But ultimately, even if they do, the coffee shop industry has changed so much this year, in so many countries that their ability to act as community spaces as I’ve have observed in the past will have changed.
In pre-Covid times coffee shops would be hubs of activity from hosting work meetings, friends catching up, right up to organised reading groups and other meet-up groups. Some types of coffee shops operate on a social model, for example board game coffee shops like the Dice Box in Leamington, where the whole idea is to have a place to go to be social out of the house. Those interactions are now more limited, and while many coffee shops (including some of the board game coffee shops) are open, many are experiencing much lower visitor numbers and revenues. Many coffee shops have made huge efforts to try and adapt their venues to accommodate social distancing, provide enhanced cleaning and so on. But for many people going to a coffee shop just isn’t part of their daily life right now, and this will inevitably have an impact.
A recent article in the Guardian provided some views from residents of Melbourne and how their coffee consumption has changed their year, and how some people miss the coffee shop. I have been doing some research about changing coffee consumption habits in the UK and Portugal, and for many people there is a desire to still visit coffee shops, and lots of people have been back to coffee shops once lockdown restrictions were eased, but regular visits aren’t part of their working lives as they were before. I fit into this category. I only visited coffee shops a handful of times since March, and when I have done so it’s for takeaway coffee when I’ve been out of the house for something else, like getting my flu jab.
I can’t help wonder what the future is for this industry, and I guess it’s my job as a researcher to try and consider this, but more importantly I worry about the impact on the people who work in this industry. Setting up and running a coffee shop is not easy, and for most businesses requires a high turnover of customers to remain viable. With ongoing restrictions, and the potential increase of restrictions as we head into winter, the prospect of people flocking back to city centres doesn’t seem to be on the horizon.
I did not intend this to be a bleak blog post, it was really just a reaction to going into a coffee shop and it being empty, and not the vibrant place I was used to visiting. If you’re thinking of buying coffee from home, perhaps think about supporting a local business near you to try and ensure we can support these businesses and the people who run them, so that they can continue to be spaces of community and part of our activities.