Culture: What's okay in a cafe?

Culture: What's okay in a cafe?
Tunisian blogger Lina Ben Mhennia; All Voices
Not all cafe hopping bloggers have the Nobel Prize nominee credibility of Tunisian Lina Ben Mhenni, but what would a cafe proprietor who didn't agree with her regime-exposing views have had the grounds to ask her to leave? And what responsibility do digital citizens, and the general public, have to cafe proprietors?

In the media of late, mothers with tantrum-throwing toddlers, children with techno devices, bloggers with laptops and lyrca-wearing cyclists have all attracted the ire of cafe proprietors.

After one Melbourne cafe reportedly told a mother to up sticks with her tantrum-throwing toddler for the sake of the space's ambiance last week, we ask, 'What is okay in a cafe?'.

Cafes aren't "public spaces" per se, they're income-earning businesses for their owners, but they are still bound by the Anti-Discrimination Act, which legislates against the unfair treatment of people based on sex, race, religious belief, disability, pregnancy and breastfeeding needs.

Of course, cafes profit from the traffic that comes through their doors, and in addition to the food they serve and the people who serve it, the ambiance they are able to create within the walls of their cafes are a big selling point.

Where do they draw the line when it comes to people's personal behaviour in regards to their business?

"You should have an open-door policy for starters, and if people abuse that, then you do something," says Alex Baan, who owns Spice of Life Cafe on Mount Tamborine, Queensland, with his wife Heike Edrich. "A child can have one scream, but if it's incessant then you might say something about it. We seldom have to do anything, though, people are understanding."

Baan also believes in the basic rules of cafe conduct for users of Wifi services: buy coffee, buy something to eat, and preferably use a small table, particularly if big groups come in who need the larger space.

In 'The Entrepreneur's Guide to Coffee Shop Etiquette', Mashable's Erica Swallow writes, "It’s nice to get away from the home desk, and a nice cafĂ© can be just the spot for sparking creativity. But with the increasing amount of coffeehouse commuters, the guidelines for what’s appropriate and what’s just downright obnoxious can be a bit foggy."

The rules stipulated by Swallow's interviewees include: buy something, particularly if you're there at lunch time and at least every two hours otherwise; get out before closing time; take business calls outside; use your headphones for sound always; put your stuff on the floor and your bum on the seat; have someone mind your stuff (watching neighbours' belongings is an "unspoken rule of coffee shop etiquette") but be reasonable; four is the magic number for group meetings; stick to browser basics – no big downloads; don't bring your own food; and don't hog the power.  

There are sugar sachets all over the table where Naomi, 35, sits with her two sons, within seconds of touch down. But this morning Naomi is enjoying some time out with Wesley, 3, and Edmund, 1, before a girlfriend arrives. Things might turn awry, this much she knows, but she's smart and plans ahead.

"Food's always good," she says, listing her essential distractions. "Sometimes I take my own, like rice cakes, because the food can take a while. And I always bring toys for them. It's a matter of spacing things out. Cafes that have toys, or a little area for kids, are good because it gives them something different."

This means mum can concentrate on time out with a girlfriend, or to simply enjoy a freshly brewed coffee. Other mums enjoy the one-on-one time with their children in a social cafe context.

Freddy, 2, and his mum, Jenny, are also at the cafe this morning to share a baby chino and coffee before heading to the supermarket to do the shopping. Jenny, who has two other children aged nine and four, likes to bring her little man here before her day gets too hectic.

"I've always brought my kids because I think it teaches them discipline and how to act in public," says Jenny, 36, over Freddy's calls of "Mum, mum, mum!". In the case of a tantrum, Jenny tells them they will be disciplined when they go home; and she follows through with it.

"If you don't take them out in public, how will they learn to be around people? You will get people who don't like being around kids - if I can sense that, I might move to another table. I am very aware that too much noise might bother someone, so I tell them to be quiet, but I also have people who come up and say, 'Don't worry about it; I love the sound of children."

I've personally felt more uncomfortable about vocal and repugnant adults or teens having their say in a cafe than with any mum with her bub or bike-pants wearing cyclist or sole blogger with a laptop.

An edit of this post appeared today at JUSTB Australia.

Girl With a Satchel