Tuesday 30 October 2012

the melbourne "good cafe layout" awards (now with diagrams!)

I've mentioned earlier the troubles I usually face upon entering a cafe for the first time, and I remain astounded by (and jealous of) those people who manage to enter a new place and figure out what's going on within eight seconds of entering.  Not me.  I'm the fella who mistakenly wanders over to the women's side of a clothing store.  I was the child who, more often than not, would be spotted running red-faced out of doll and bra aisles of department stores across Melbourne.

Cafes are no different.  Whether I am standing around waiting for a take-away coffee, waiting to pay, or waiting for my mate Godot, I always seem to end up in the wrong place—in the way

And I'm not the only one!  Visit any popular Melbourne cafe and you will see a gaggle of patrons (whether by ignorance or sheer misfortune) standing, living, and being in the way.  These people lean on the communal table while regulars try to enjoy their morning paper.  They cut off all possible approaches to the cash register in a manner that puts Israel's blockade of the Gaza Strip to shame.  They converse and gesticulate wildly in front of the kitchen entrance, seemingly unaware of the serving staff that duck and weave in order to avoid disaster (much like a roll of toilet paper, once a poached egg starts rolling, it cannot be stopped).

It is for this reason that I thank [drafting note: conduct research on blog readership; insert appropriate deity] that certain wily proprietors across Melbourne have designed their cafes so that idiot patrons such as myself are, for lack of a better description, corralled into the correct standing place.

With this article, I aim to recognise some of these progressive establishments that meet my "good cafe layout" criteria.  These places do the following things:
  1. Keep the area directly in front of the cash register as free from humans as possible.
  2. Separate the people waiting for take-away coffee from the people sitting at tables.
  3. Separate the people waiting for take-away coffee from the people waiting to pay.
  4. Ensure that staff carrying food and/or coffee to tables do not need to pass through people waiting to pay or waiting for take-away coffee.
Well then!  Who (in my ever so 'umble opinion) are the winners?

Kinfolk / 673 Bourke Street, Melbourne CBD

This little gem absolutely nails all of the above criteria through its ingenious use of what can only be described as a coffee "waiting room", allowing you to sit or loiter unhurriedly in this nook while your take-away is made.
While this waiting room contains books, music and magazines in the vein of your local doctor's office, the tunes and reading material are infinitely better at Kinfolk, with the added bonus of far less general malaise amongst the patrons.

Although Kinfolk do not (as yet) give you a lollipop along with your coffee, I am at least thankful that when I hear "long black, for Dave" I know that I am on the receiving end of a delicious hot beverage, whereas if I was to hear the same thing at the doctor's office, I'd imagine a stool sample of some sort was forthcoming.

Market Lane / Shop 13, Prahran Market

Here we see a unique and somewhat brazen solution to the problem of congestion: create so much empty space on the floor of the cafe that even if you assembled the entire cast of characters from the popular Mr. Men series of children's books inside Market Lane to wait for 47 take-away soy lattes, none of these characters (despite their oft-antagonistic ways toward each other) would cause the slightest disturbance whatsoever.

If only Mr. Men creator Roger Hargreaves was still alive and creating characters!  I would suggest "Mr. Single Origin", an insufferable fussbudget of a fellow who falls out of favour with the other Mr. Men thanks to his constant boasting (in between slurps of coffee) about the superiority of his brew's flavour profile.

What better way to introduce generations of children worldwide to the mystical powers of caffeine? 

The Little Mule / 19 Somerset Place, Melbourne CBD

The Mule scores points through smart use of outdoor space at its laneway location.  Sit-in patrons are ferreted into the interior of the cafe, well separated from those just coming in for a take-away.  These take-away customers may either hang out in the lane and catch a tan from the Melbourne rain, or alternatively, lean on the counter and engage the barista in idle chit-chat.

Its quiet location ensures that the Little Mule avoids the usual pitfall of cafes which open up onto the street or feature a coffee window—the gaggle of anxious, caffeine-starved souls that forms out the front of such establishments, blocking the footpath and drawing the ire of workers, shoppers, and the local council.  This is doubly important given that the Mule is located within the City of Melbourne; newly re-elected Lord Mayor Robert "Il Duce" Doyle has been known to send in the riot squad to break up such packs of addicts.

Giddiup / 269 Coventry Street, South Melbourne

You can lead a man to a cafe, but you cannot make him stand in the right place—that is, unless you design your cafe with a devilishly simple layout to ensure that while the streams of sit-in and take-away patrons might run side-by-side, their waters never mingle.

Like a horse, the quality of coffee at Giddiup is sturdy and reliable.  But unlike a horse, which requires a swift kick to the flanks to set it in motion, the staff at Giddiup spring into action upon the presentation of notes and coins—an infinitely more civilised affair.

And thus concludes the awards, although this is by no means an exhaustive list.  Truth be told, it's mainly limited by my sturdy laptop, which celebrated its sixth birthday this year and finds it hard in its old age to tackle more than four diagrams at once.


  1. I liked this and completely understand the stress of standing around being in the way :(