Hybrid café culture a perfect setting for hottest deals
Sitting on a brown faux-leather sofa in the cool ambiance of a café in an upscale neighbourhood, the strong, sweet coffee scent is overpowering. Across the lounge-like room are several people; possibly in business, politicians, lovers, or tourists making soft conversation against the low volume wide TV screens to the left and the right, behind the glassy counter full of cookies, cakes, samosas, ice cream, and smoothies.
Everything appears to be welcoming but exotically impersonal like the people at the tables. Young, middle age, and seniors, they drink coffee, surfing the Internet, talk, or even order a meal from uniformed waiters who flash smiles before taking orders.
Welcome to the world of Kampala city’s hybrid café culture. This is a familiar milieu in business neighbourhoods like Uganda House, leisure spots like Centenary Park, shopping centres like Nakumatt Oasis, Garden City, or Lugogo, along quiet streets like Parliamentary Avenue and Lumumba Avenue, and busy Kampala Road and Wilson Street.
The café culture describes a social atmosphere or associated behaviors that depend heavily on coffee as a social lubricant. It is a diffusion and adoption of coffee as a stimulant for hanging-out.
Apart from bars, café are maturing as centers of social interaction for people to congregate, talk, write, read, entertain one another, or pass the time, whether individually or in small groups.
Most cafes could easily be labeled coffee shops, with their unmistakable cup of coffee or other espresso based hot beverages. But Kampala’s cafes have been hybridized to share some of the characteristics of a bar and restaurant. Apart from coffee and tea, most offer light snacks, and internet services.
Ismail Ssempereza, a chef at a café at Garden City says it not unusual for people to mistake cafes for a restaurant.
“It is a meeting point for all sorts of people; rich families and celebrities while others come to taste the services, meet friends, adventuring, relaxing and gossiping and showing off,” he says.
Kampala may be thousands of years from 15th century Damascus, where coffee house culture originated, but it is catching up.
“Every time I come in Uganda, I take my time with a cup of coffee here because of their customer friendly services,” said Samantha Lux, a tourist from the U.S. relaxing alone at one of the cafes on Jinja Road.
Apart from acting as a meeting point, some cafes provide mild entertainment like standup comedy or poetry readings.
“We started in 1999 and over 100 visit us every day. Mostly Ugandans come and hang around and the whites mainly come for coffee,” says Ronnie a worker at a café.
Some cafes have adopted names similar to cafes in Europe, the U.S. or other countries to create a similar ambiance and atmosphere. Competition has also forced some aggressive marketing as some cafes have adapted a culture of direct door-to-door, online promotion, social networking among blue-chip institutions like banks and telecom companies.
One cafe on Kampala Road which doubles as a café and a restaurant says it offers free space for business meetings.
“We host corporate people, tourists, ministers and all other classes of people as a strategy, we get emails for different companies and we keep updating them with everything on our menu. We also deliver snacks and breakfast to our client in these companies,” says the manager, Joseph Sematimba.
Business is booming. The owner of one of the café on Parliamentary Avenue says she started her business in 2004 because she loved coffee and thought other people would be attracted to a place that offers its clients coffee and food. She recently added Wi-Fi-hotspot facilities so that her clients can access internet. She serves coffee prepared using espresso based beverages. The food served includes light meals and fruit juices. On average, she says, 200 customers are served in a day.
Her business, which started with 12 employees, has grown to over 40 working in two branches around town.
Apart from her innate acumen, she says she has attended entrepreneurship conferences and trainings in and outside Uganda and is a member of the Uganda Women Entrepreneurs Association Ltd (UWEAL) which has enabled her to benefit from networking with other entrepreneurs.
The major challenges to the business include high operational costs, the poor coffee culture in Uganda, and poor work ethics among employees. The business hopes to overcome these challenges by educating its clients more about coffee and its benefits. In future, the owner plans to open new outlets as a strategy to increase clientele base.