Coffee shops: Meeting place for the affluent?

Naledi Sande Lifestyle Writer—
Coffee shops, tea-houses and cafés fall into a similar category, a place of business centred on selling a particular beverage, often hot but sometimes cold, even if the beverage in question is available at home and at a much lower price. Catering for an assortment of tastes, what these places are actually selling is the ambiance; a space for social interactions, and refuge for those who value solace and solitude.

These businesses have traditionally been popular because they are able to win over customers’ taste buds, interests and loyalty. They offer a variety of brews and plenty of eats that cater to the appetites of people of creeds and culture. This is perhaps what makes cafés across the world favourable and a successful business venture.

In Zimbabwe however, this seems to not quite be the trend.

Specialist tea-houses are virtually non-existent and in the prevailing economic conditions, coffee shops and cafés have struggled to successfully penetrate the hospitality market.

The functioning coffee shops in Harare are situated in the more affluent parts of the city. Among them, the Mugg & Bean franchise at Borrowdale Village and Avondale Shopping Centre, Pistachio’s at Sam Levy’s Village, Café Veldemeers in Mount Pleasant, opposite Arundel Village, Bell’s Coffee Shop in Willowmead, Rolf Valley and 40 Cork Road Cafe in Avondale.

Brazita Coffee shop is the only coffee shop left in the central business district of the city but has seen better days with the owners resorting to selling sadza and relish to stay afloat.

Opened in 2005, Brazita like other business in the country has been struggling to cement itself in the market. “Business for us is very low.

It was better when we started but since 2007, we have been struggling,” said the manager who refused to disclose their identity.

The manager pointed out that chief among the challenges was culturing a new target market as traditionally cafés appealed to tourists and white people.

“Indigenous Zimbabweans are generally not sold on the idea of a coffee shop. They prefer to have their hot beverages at home or at work and are not accustomed to paying a premium for a hot brew.”

Borrowdale’s Mugg & Bean has also been facing similar challenges as other operators in the market. “Business is now down from when we started three years ago.

But should our economy bounce back to where it was before, then things will certainly start to look up,” Mugg & Bean’s manager Ambros Dangare.

Fortunately for Mugg & Bean, their menu caters for more than just hot beverages, pastries and confectioneries, accommodating fast food options and gourmet meals, allowing regulars there to opt for the steak or burger rather than for the actual coffee and cake.

Many coffee shop operators have followed this model and are expanding their existing menus and focusing on food to respond to greater competition. What is additionally affecting the café business is the fact that a variety of coffees and teas are now readily available at most retail shops.

A visit to the Pick n Pay or OK Supermarket will get you a freshly made cup of tea or coffee for only 50 cents, much cheaper than the $2 paid at most coffee shops.

Despite the growing disillusionment in cafés, Pistachio’s at Borrowdale Village has managed to maintain its clientele and interest in its services Dani Smith, manager and owner bought the coffee shop in 2012 and says little has changed since they opened.

“Our business has waned ever so slightly but we are still busy. We are not quiet and we haven’t lost customers. I think it is just the economic environment that has a presented a few challenges.”

Outside from offering drinks and eats, coffee shops in Zimbabwe have also become a place for work, with some individuals choosing to hold their business meetings there.

Others who are able to work off site and prefer a more relaxed setting to the clutter of an office or the familiarity and distractions of home can also be found clicking away at their laptops and tablets in cafés in the city. Freelancers, entrepreneurs, or those with a flexible work schedule have found cafés to be a fantastic location in which to be productive.

What is certain is that in the local environment, coffee shops and cafés attract mainly the affluent hence their popularity in the northern suburbs of the Harare.

Others will only visit these establishments for the food instead of coffee and the rest only if they are chasing specific business. For the majority, the comfort of their homes remains the best place to indulge in their hot brew of Tanganda and their slice of freshly buttered bread.

Article Source: The Herald