If you asking for idea for special food businesses that could stand out from any restaurants out there, cafe will always be my best answer.
The cafe or the place where preferred by hipsters and all those coffee maniacs (no offense, I’m one of them) would love to visit and hide for many, many hours is currently a huge trends and it’s going to be the same for many, many years.
Targeted by serious food bloggers and food lovers, as well as people with special taste in special food place with well decorated theme, interior design and provide an overall immerse sense of great visiting feeling, cafes are among one of the most popular topic that people willing to write books full of cafe all around the world and their features.
A great cafe is much more famous, and much easier to be famous, than any high class or 5 star restaurants, while the overall operated cost is very much lesser than the cheapest 5 star restaurants out there.
Sadly, running a cafe in Malaysia is never an easy thing. Despite more and more people addicted and dive deeply into the poison of cafe, running a cafe is also one of the hardest thing to do and maintain.
The issues are not just the ordinary food businesses issues such as highly competitive environment, the high expectation in food quality from consumers, availability of suppliers, overall cost for operation and maintenance….. cafe have special and unique challenges that other food businesses might not need to worry about.
1. Malaysian's Appetite is weird
Can you imagine eating Nasi Lemak with Cappuccino? How about Fried Mee Hoon with a cup of Latte with great aroma? It’s beyond common in Malaysia for people to eat any type of breakfast that doesn’t looks like it's meant for breakfast in the morning.
In general, coffees are meant for western style, which usually eat with bread or toast, or a bowl of morning oats. Not everyone here willing to enjoy a luxury hot coffee with “normal” meal. For a cafe, you could provide such option to suit Malaysian’s taste although it would seems weird.
And if you seriously think about doing it, this impose another type of challenge because, food like sambal can’t mix with actual coffee…. how are you going to mix and match foods with coffee and able to provide a balance taste for any foods that customers order and maintain the quality of coffee is a really difficult thing to begins with, not to mention that you need to create new taste in the long run.
2. Power Cable Hunter everywhere
If you are running a food business and you don’t have sufficient power cable for your customers, you are at a disadvantage because your customers are just going to come, eat and go. That is good in terms of amount of customers to eat in your place, but (sadly) only provided that people willing to visit your restaurant.
It’s like a cat cafe. What gave people the great reason to visit the place? THE HUGE FLUFFY AND MOVABLE CUTIESSS! You have something great that people want, people would be more willing to visit your cafe.
And the top 3 thing that people keep looking for nowadays: Free wifi, power cable, and a place with washroom. Fulfilling the three can, theoretically, keep maintain your customers flow and give them reasons to come back. Doubting it? Observe how many people usually visit cafe with the laptop/gadgets instead of just chatting.
But here come the challenge:
1) Providing power cables = people would stay for long hours unwilling to leave
2) Not providing power cables = people is less prefer to visit you
Why people have to depend on power cable from cafe instead of doing stuff at home? It's because of the cafe environment.
Good news is, your cafe is able to attract people and they want to spend their time at your place. And the bad news, you need to provide them sufficient electricity to make them feel that their stay is meaningful.
3. People thought cafe sell overpriced coffee
The growth of many famous coffee trees out there take in the measurement of the high & low altitudes, the temperature surrounding the coffee trees all the time, the necessary shades to avoid coffee trees being exposed to sunlight, and all the necessary patience and perseverance of 2 to 4 years or more to finally harvest the coffee beans.
The harvesting process also vary depending on countries. Some countries use large scale machine for massive harvesting, while some countries still prefer hand pick. Processing coffee bean involve picking the high quality coffee bean by appropriate examination and filtering through eyes observation.
Upon packing, exporting, distributing to the cafes and businesses for barista to brew a good cup of coffee that cost RM8 to RM15 after all the time and effort consuming processes, yet people don’t really understand the difficulty of harvesting coffee beans and think that they are overpriced.
I can agree that a beverage that cost RM10++ is not considered cheap. A cup of less than 250ml coffee won in terms of taste compare to other commercialized beverages out there with such price. But sadly, only those who truly love and enjoy real coffee can see the value.
Most people don’t understand why coffee are usually expensive, or rather they don’t really care about that. It’s nothing uncommon that as consumer, we ought to think meaningful spending in our own preferred method.
4. The Misconception of Commercialized Coffee
Not many people enjoy filtered/brewed coffee, that’s when commercialized coffee came in.
Coffee is actually not for everyone. You might love or hate the best brewed coffee in any cafe, but many people that I known and seen so far are not really into the so-call brewed or filtered coffee. Which is one of the reason why, I think, commercialized coffee shops are so full of people time to time unlike cafe that sell actual coffee.
In my previous post on What's Wrong with Commercialized Coffee?, I mentioned that what people like about commercialized coffee is the modified coffee that still taste like coffee, but with lots of added sugar and flavor to make it a cup of beverage that is more acceptable and loved by people.
Real coffee don’t taste good, most people couldn’t accept it even if people want to be some sort of coffee fanatic due to interest or something. But thanks to commercialized coffee, many people able to do that. And people can go for it all the time as long as their budget allow them.
The problem occur when people thought commercialized coffee is the real coffee. And they thought sticking to commercialized coffee is much better choice for larger beverage size, more customized coffee choices & flavor, much tasty coffee… and so on.
5. Food bloggers can decide you’re dead or alive, yet not all of them are kind & smart
As a food blogger myself, it’s not all about writing, I also read other people’s blog time to time to learn from those who have much better idea, and learn to avoid mistakes that other bloggers made.
The good news is, most of the blogs I read so far have great things and excellent idea. But there are also people that need to learn that writing a blog means publishing your idea to the world & web, everyone can see what you are writing.
And writing whatever you want because it’s your own blog is a wrong-doing because you are posting information to the internet, and it’s quite unfortunate that there are lots of internet users out there that has issue with analyzing and filtering information.
There are lots of honest bloggers who don’t usually advertise for a food place, and the problem occur when their information is over modified and exaggerated according to their own preference.
Take coffee as example, most cafe don’t use the same type of coffee bean and brew in the similar method. As a result, a cup of Cappuccino taste differently in most cafe.
People might love the Cappuccino of one cafe, but hate the Cappuccino in another cafe. But as they blog, instead of talking about the content of the Cappuccino, they use the general terms of “tasty” and “yucky” to determine their food rating. So most often, they would either say that the coffee is tasty or yucky, by the sense of their preference.
When blog readers read their post, people frequently just take it as a yay or nay. When they happen to visit the cafe, they have the impression that the Cappuccino is a nay, so they would never order that.
Bloggers sometimes do not know coffee is different from commercialized coffee. Actual coffee use similar way to prepare. Like for Cappuccino, you need 60ml of espresso, 60ml of frothed milk, and 60ml of milk foam. The content could be the same, while some Cappuccino out there replace milk foam with super bubbly milk foam or they increase the volume of frothed milk.
And the differences of coffee bean result in the Cappuccino taste totally different for all cafe. Which is completely normal and nothing wrong, it’s just the taste might not favor certain people.
But for certain people, that might be a great cup of coffee. When bloggers use the general idea of yay or nay to rate coffee, it’s quite often that innocent coffee & foods will face difficulty of gaining reputation.
And there is no point blaming people for believing the internet rather than try it out themselves to learn the truth. It’s a common problem that people believe that internet is truth, and people don’t usually prefer adventurous type. They want their money to be spent on nice and recommended food based on blog review.
6. Coffee is not recommended for continuous consumption
Now this is one serious issue. No matter how much we love about coffee, there is no way we can deny the amount of caffeine in it. We can always remind ourselves that caffeine is not always bad, it do provides numerous health and mental benefits, but it’s wise that we bear in mind that caffeine do harm at the same time.
There is basically no way we can recommend anyone to keep on consuming coffee like any food businesses, especially when they selling point is healthy food.
In general, the recommended actual coffee consumption per day is 1 or 2 cups, or 400mg of coffee bean, which is actually too over according to my experience.
I tried 3 cups of coffee from 3 different cafes in one day, as I said I could literally die for coffee. And I was seriously almost dead as I got totally zombified in the next 3 days. Unable to concentrate at work, couldn't use my brain, feeling weak all the time, drag my feet to walk… It took a full 7 days water detox for me to slowly recover from it.
Due to the fact that people can’t consume too much of coffee, the issue is that not all coffee lovers or fanatics would go to your cafe.
Imagine there is someone out there, thinking for a cup of morning coffee in cafe. He went for one cafe for the coffee, and that’s it. He most likely won’t go for another cafe again.
If it’s other type of food business, sandwich for example, there is a probability that a customer might go for another restaurant for sandwich again because he is not full, or not satisfy. Thus, allow other restaurant to earn profit.
In the cafe, even if your customers are satisfied with the coffee, most of them won’t order for a second cup because of the price and health concerns.
And as one of the common trend in cafe, people don’t usually step in, order the food, finish the food, and go. They usually chat for a long time, or stay there for their own study/work. Which occupy the table and when the cafe is full, people who came in later couldn’t get a seat and they have to leave. And bear in mind that most people who stay usually only order one cup of coffee and that’s it.
Imagine that there are 10 tables in your cafe. Each table has one customer that order one cup of coffee and occupy the table for half a day. That’s means your profit for that half a day is only 10 cup of coffees. That is definitely a huge challenge that you need to think about the way to satisfy your customers yet able to earn to sustain your business.
7. Not the ordinary customers
With specially designed theme and skill on purchasing & brewing great coffee, running a cafe require high effort to attract people and that result in higher price in most of the things in the cafe.
All these costing don’t usually attract people who merely need some food to fill up their stomach. Even if it does, people who purposely go to cafe has somewhat higher expectation compare to visiting ordinary restaurants and food places.
The problem that you might face when running a cafe compare to running ordinary restaurant is that your customers might be the type that expecting high quality food and services that should meet a certain standard in their own point of view, but sometimes it might be too over.
In this world, there is a theory where people who afford to pay high price has high expectation in return. When you can serve coffee and western dishes that is much costly than other places, you need to make sure it’s good enough to satisfy your customers who have high standard.
Failed to do so might result in customer making a big fuss about things that doesn’t satisfy them. You need to have great patient dealing with them. One of the situation is when they request you to change ingredient or flavor in the dishes that they order.
You should expect something much more fussy than customer ordering fried chicken but he/she want only chicken thigh but less fatty, remove the oil from outer skin and the meat but remain the skin, and don’t be too big because he/she just want a taste on it but doesn’t want to take too much due to health concern and at the same time, not too small otherwise it’s not fulling.
They might as well don’t order fried chicken and order something else, right? Well, you gotta say that at their face if you are serious about it but embrace yourself as they will probably get rage, act like some president's son/daughter (or they might be) and give you a bad review for that.
Another important point is that, some of the customers could be the serious coffee drinker that experience tasting all sort of coffee and they know when the coffee is good or bad, and able to tell you when your coffee is under or over extract, the measurement of espresso and other ingredients are not balance, and other factors.
If the coffee is not meeting such standard, you should expect poor reputation even if your coffee is considered a proper cup of coffee that able to satisfy many customers.