Why Chain Cafes Have Higher Profits

We're in a recession, right?  If the media are to be believed hundreds of small businesses are going under every week.  So why are some businesses turning money away?

Yesterday we went to Bosham Harbour, a lovely little village near us in West Sussex with boats to look at, ducks and swans (and the ever present seagulls) to feed, walks to take, and a lovely little cafe to take tea in.  Sophia needed feeding, so we decided to go to the cafe first.  At 3.45pm we wandered in and found one of the best tables, overlooking the water, free - result.

We settled ourselves down and started looking at the menu and, as we had missed lunch for one reason or another, we were intending to have proper tea all round - sandwiches, cakes and scones, plus drinks, so would probably be spending at least £20.  An elderly couple had followed us through the door, and were perusing the menu too.

But, quick as a flash, a waitress came over and told both tables that they couldn't serve us food as they were closing at 4 o'clock.  No apology, no possibility of  catering for us in the remaining fifteen minutes, just a flat - no food.  On the door it said they would close at 5pm, their usual closing time.

When asked why they were closing early, we were told that they weren't busy, so had decided to close early.  The irony that six people had just arrived but were being turned away seemed utterly lost!

We went to a different cafe, where we were most welcome, closing time or not.

Tea (and coffee) at last!

Yet this wasn't the first time this has happened to us recently.  In late August, we were looking for afternoon tea (spot the pattern) in Amersham, Buckinghamshire.  It was nearly 3.30pm on a Sunday afternoon.  The first place we went to said they were still finishing lunch service and didn't serve tea until 4.30pm.

Now, I'm sure lunch is more lucrative than tea, after all not many people take tea in this day and age, but most have lunch, and on a Sunday many would be out for lunch.  But to be told they couldn't even offer us a cup of tea or coffee, which many have after lunch anyway, seemed ridiculous, especially as their luncheon clientele seemed rather thin on the ground!

If it were me, I would have got the drinks together and offered to rustle up a scone or something a little later.  I doubt their scones and cakes are baked from scratch when they're ordered, so they must have them put to one side already.

Anyway, we tried elsewhere, and it just got better - the second place we tried, pretty garden, very pleasant, was open, so we took a garden table and asked for a tea menu.  Oh no, we don't serve tea until 4pm, came the terse reply.  By this time it was about twenty to four.  So could we just sit here and wait?  Oh no, we'd have to come back at four.  Grr!!!!

Needless to say, we did not return at the appointed hour to either venue and spent our money elsewhere.

Once again, a couple of weeks ago, this time in Dorking, Surrey, we sat down in a delightful courtyard garden of an ostensibly open cafe and asked for a menu.  Only to receive the reply:

"Oh no, we're closing now, we haven't had any customers for an hour."

Resisting the urge to shout "WE ARE PAYING CUSTOMERS", we decamped across the road to Costa, and advised the other party of five coming into the courtyard to do the same.

Small, independent restaurants, pubs and cafes often complain that the big chains steal their trade, but surely this is why!  Costa is guaranteed to be open till 6pm, with food, drinks, sofas available, they have no intention of turning money away, even if it's only a £1.50 coffee!  Wagamama will welcome me and my children, it won't frown on them making noise or wanting children's meals, and it won't charge us a fortune for the privilege.

If these independent cafes and restaurants are in a better position than I believe them to be, if they have profits so enormous they don't know what to do with them, then great, good luck to them.  If not, then why on earth are they closing early and turning customers' money away?

If they have taken the sometimes sensible decision to close early because there are no customers, then why not be flexible enough to reverse that if customers turn up?  Surely our £20 or whatever is enough to cover another hour's wage, let alone if other people come along too.  I just don't get it.

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