The Reader’s Ideal Coffee Den

I love reading in cafés. In Singapore we see kids studying in Starbucks and CBTL all the time, and usually I don’t mind hanging out there with them. But sometimes I crave better coffee, and Wifi that doesn’t badger me with a login window popping up every three minutes. Then I’d find myself stranded, gazing wistfully out of the window dreaming of opening my own café since no one seems to be able to do it right. Too bad I have no head for business. I wanted to rant about what I hate in cafés, but I thought I’d be more constructive and talk about what I love. And hopefully some savvy entrepreneur out there would capitalise on these readerly needs.

Spaciousness (or some semblance of it)

Give me windows, lots of ’em. Or mirrors, if your place is small. Sometimes I feel like if I see another concrete wall I’ll scream. That’s why I went out hunting for new reader-friendly environments in the first place. If you have concrete walls, distract me with paintings or photos. I like nature; trees, beaches, anything that gives me some sense of freedom. Graffiti may be cool but in a small area it just amplifies the claustrophobia.

Light

Natural light’s best for focus (again, windows), but if you don’t have that and can’t afford to fake it, at least give us lights bright enough to work in. You can bring out your flickering candles in the evening but in the day, most people who aren’t at work still need to or want to work. So if your café’s miserably empty after lunch hour, you know why.

Non-disruptive music

The popular theory is that classical music aids concentration but I find that nothing beats golden silence. I realise that’s not very marketable though, so I don’t mind any sort of music as long as it has a steady pulse and is soft enough to fade into background. You can actually play whatever you want because if I don’t like your music I can use my headphones. Unless, of course, you blast it. So please, lower your volume. Especially if you’re playing some weird, squeaky-balloony electronic beat peppered with mechanised voices trying to sing fast and talk cool but are really just vacant echoes of one another, blathering the same old tale of broken hearts or preaching the usual sex, drugs and partying. Not that those things aren’t nice but I’m trying to work here, dammit. Save the dance music for the dance floor and don’t invade my private sound space. Life is not all just one big party and if you try to live it that way, you will never know how to party.

Good, affordable coffee

I don’t need beans flown in from the exotic highlands of Ethiopia, though I certainly wouldn’t complain. But at least offer something decent that I can drink black without wincing. Invest in a good machine, hire proper baristas, or train staff so that they at least know how to cover screwed-up milk with cocoa powder.

Good service

This is basic. I shouldn’t be the one cleaning up leftover food from tables. Pay staff well and hire enough of them so they don’t look so stressed and glum all the time, and fire them if they do.

Crowd control

I can’t stand it when they pack a place so full of tables people can’t even walk to their seats without saying “sorry” about eight hundred times. The journey to that sole empty seat, recently vacated, with trays still on the table, would be one long and embarrassing obstacle course in which I’d stumble over a few legs, knock into a few tables, and elbow a few dozen sweaty backs. Ick. Nothing against the owners of said backs personally but I kinda like being clean. And um, sorry for jabbing your sweaty back, but you did it to that waiter back there too, and you will do it to others on your way out.

Odour control

There’s this café near my place that absolutely reeks with school students. School students here all have this smell in common, and it’s not a pleasant one. Again, nothing personal; I was a student too and I perfectly understand that it’s not their fault, they’re forced to spend a day sweating in starchy uniforms. They could carry a deodorant stick, but since they don’t, it’s up to café owners to invest in air fresheners, out of consideration to other customers.

Okay, so I realise I ended up ranting a little (or maybe a bit more than a little). It’s frustrating when I go out looking for a place to read but end up wandering around like a refugee in my own country. Even the library is full on weekends, and there’s no coffee. Ah, well. Maybe I’m too spoilt. What are your pet peeves and ideals when it comes to reading spaces? Do share!

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