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Running Counter of Cafe Culture

Observations from the Edge
Robert T. Nanninga
The Espresso
March 14, 2007


Cafes are the public houses of the 21st century. Neither coffee shop nor restaurant, cafes have established themselves in Southern California as casual contributors to the quality of life of local residents and community identity. A consequence of urbanization of once rural areas, cafes are providing consumers a place to relax and rejuvenate in a stress-free environment.

Learning as they go, successful cafe owners know profitability relies on maintaining a delicate balance between comfort and capitalism while offering 1st rate service at affordable prices. Cafe owners also know paying the rent depends on paying attention to the needs of paying customers.

Cafe patrons not only require superior coffee served fresh and friendly, they also require a place to sit and socialize in a smoke-free environment. Most cafe patrons also prefer not to be panhandled or propositioned while enjoying their soy macadamia mocha at the end of a long workday.

Cafe culture is more than just a collection of caffeine aficionados, academics, and aspiring writers sitting around looking cool. Cafe culture is an intentional community thriving on the tacit understanding that commerce is king and for the price of a cup of coffee or chai latte everyone is welcome.

Unfortunately the laid back civility of most cafes attracts a steady stream of inconsiderate parasites operating under the delusion of unwarranted entitlements and free access to cafe tables, cafe restrooms, and the spare change of cafe patrons. As if rent is a foreign concept to them, this subculture of street slackers blatantly disregard the reality of fiscal responsibility faced daily by cafe owners and their employees.

Unlike transients and the chronically homeless, who are often victims of mental illness or longterm substance abuse, street slackers and gutter hippies are usually young suburbanites unwilling to pay their own way, who seem committed playing poor in the shabby chic made famous by Mary Kate and Ashley.

And it is not like these bohemian bums are without funds, as they are never without cigarettes, and rarely without a cell phone attached to the side of their head. When asked to buy something or make way for paying customers, they usually turn surly only to return an hour later to continue their latte-less loitering.

When cafe owners and employees, busy meeting the consumer needs of much valued customers, are forced to confront the antisocial behavior of street slackers, they not only view these indigent interlopers as an economic threat, but also as responsible for diminishing the cafe going experience of valued paying customers forced to wait while cafe staff deals with the antics of non-customers.

The best way to handle freeloaders and the ethically challenged is with a tag team approach where members of the cafe community take an active role in maintaining the casual charm of their favorite establishment and preserving a high quality environment. To paraphrase Hillary Clinton, "It takes a village to raise community standards."

Working together to improve the cafe going experience, those who depend on the oasis of calm and caffeine provided by locally owned and operated neighborhood cafes. Those of us invested in the cafe culture are helping to define and sustain local economies. And that's a good thing.

Those unwilling to contribute must be shown the door, with a gentle hand and a firm resolve.

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