Cafe conversations - the balancing act of a cafe owner

Climate change, religion, cycling, politics, marriage equality, taxes, wage rates, recycling, local food, coffee temperature, refugees and asylum seekers, homelessness and pokies - those are some of the conversations that go on between customers and I. Talking is a big part of any job in hospitality.

I try to watch what I say because there are times where my opinions differ from those of my customers. I always listen, and I don’t buy into an argument - and that’s not because the customer’s always right (but they usually are).

Customers don’t visit my café for my opinion or for an argument; they’re here for the food, ambience and a caffeine hit.

‘I’m off to Derailleur to talk to Eric about refugees…Climate change, hmm I’ll ask Eric.’ Said no one ever.

Customers don’t visit my café for my opinion or for an argument; they’re here for the food, ambience and a caffeine hit. My business wouldn’t exist without my customers, so the focus is to give them a fabulous experience every time. I deliver the special of the day, not a lecture on the issue of the day.

As a café owner, I might interact with 100 customers daily, plus suppliers. I often wonder if it’s possible to have the robust conversations that we need to have without either party taking offense. And not losing business?

Well, here’s how I usually play it: keep to the safe topics of footy and sport in general, the weather, plans for the weekend or what you did last weekend, and the new dishes on the menu. Oh, and let’s talk about family - yours and mine.

Where is this getting us?  A polite exchange. A happy sing-song banter, greeting, chat, farewell and wishes for your day.

Sometimes I feel that if we’re going to change the world for the better, then we each need to dig a bit deeper.  But as a café owner, I’m just not gonna go there. I’ve lost customers when I’ve tried. My job is hospitality, my focus is on customer service and making your day with the best macchiato or latte you’ve ever tried.

So how can I encourage the conversions we need to have?

There are some regular customers that meet up for coffee and talk. For them there’s no topic that’s off the table. And they smash out the ideas. Around their table you have to be able to put your argument forward in less than a minute or you’re toast. There’s respect: one’s talking while the others are listening and formulating their argument or agreement.

Watching them go for it one day I realised that’s it: the key to a cracker conversation is active listening. So that’s what I do. Listen. And throw in the occasional clarifying question to keep things moving along.

Focus on your food and coffee.. or if you want, you're welcome to join me for a cafe conversation anytime. And heck, if our conversation leads to a better outcome for the world and for our community, then that’s ace.

And for the record:

Climate change. It’s real and it’s man-made. I don’t get why we’re not going to war against it given the huge risk it presents to our way of life, agriculture and our planet. 

Religion. As long as you’re not hurting anyone else you can practice whatever you’d like. I hope that it will make the world a better place. 

Cycling. Well hello. Some subtle clues at Derailleur should show that I’m pro-cycling in all its forms. I can’t wait to see the #AMeterMatters law come in.

Politics. Our personal politics shouldn’t affect our work, schooling or lives. When it does it will silence people - not a good result.  But that said, I believe in my community and the power of positive politics. That’s why I support Cathy McGowan. The constructive approach she has brought to politics in our region is amazing. I look forward to seeing all our politicians take on similar values.  

Marriage equality. Just yes.

Taxes. We all should all be paying them - GST, PAYG, personal, company and whatever other taxes the Government chooses. None of us enjoy paying tax but we all enjoy the benefits of that investment every day via education, health care, roads and the like.

Wage Rates. Workers deserve fair pay. Why the heck isn’t every eligible business issued a sticker by the Government to put on their front door “I pay at or above award wages and conditions”?  

Local food. At Derailleur, we buy locally grown and locally produced food where we can. I encourage everyone to do the same and to support local growers and businesses.

Recycling. Doesn’t every cafe recycle? We do. Reducing waste isn’t rocket science, it just takes extra effort. You’re welcome to check out our bins each Wednesday and Saturday night, and if you do you’ll notice they’re about half full.

Refugees and asylum seekers. That karma will come back to us as a nation at some point.  Many of us, or our families, came to this country seeking a better life.  Let’s help create that for others.

I didn’t list the above to start an argument – I totally get that you might have different opinions to me. That tolerance and respect for one another is one of the special things that makes our community so great. I just thought I’d put my cards on the table.

You're welcome to just focus on your food and coffee next time you're in, or if you're keen you're most welcome to join me for a cafe conversation. And heck, if our conversation leads to a better outcome for the world and for our community, then that’s ace.

Tammy Atkins

1460 Snow Rd, Milawa, VIC, 3678, Australia