More than half of Australia’s 20,000 cafes have lost 50 per cent or more of their revenue over the past 12 months as a result of COVID-19 and bushfires, and a vast majority say they won’t be able to recover without third-party support, a survey has found.
But, despite their struggles, cafe owners say they’re heartened by the findings of the same research that 70 per cent of the population now see their local cafe as the centre of the community.
According to the report commissioned by Australian coffee roaster Harris Coffee and its parent company JDE, almost 5 million Australians say they missed their cafes during the pandemic even more than pubs and clubs.
“It was hard at the start of the pandemic to see customers and business fade away,” said Adam Taiapa, the general manager of the Brisbane cafe Entice Me, in Newstead. “We tried to stay open during the whole time with a scaled-down staff but we did lose 85 per cent of our trade.
“Now we’re slowly seeing a return, and it’s really heart-warming to hear that we’ve been so missed and that we’re considered to be so essential to people for their sense of community. We have to support each other during these times.”
The research showed how badly cafes across Australia have been hit by the twin disasters of coronavirus and bushfires, and how well – or otherwise – they’re surviving.
JDE chief executive and the head of Harris Coffee, David Ansell, said there had been a lot of concern that Australia’s famous coffee culture had been put under threat.
“There were lots of different economic surveys coming out suggesting that we’re in a recession and discussion that it signals the end of retail or manufacturing,” he said.
“But we felt cafes were the sector most impacted, so we surveyed 1000 Australians and 200 operators in the hospitality space to shine a light on what’s happening. We have the best coffee culture in the world, with no one wanting to miss out on going for coffee on Saturday and Sunday mornings, so we wanted to check up on the state of play and see if we could help.”
As a result of the worrying picture that emerged, the company has now launched the Harris Cafe Recovery Project, pledging $1 million to help cafes get back on their feet. Keen to move from the home market into the cafe industry, Harris is inviting cafes around Australia to apply for the aid package, which means the 25 successful ones will receive a free supply of Harris coffee for a year, a free machine and takeaway cups plus technical, training and marketing support.
The research, conducted by YouGov Galaxy, found 89 per cent of small businesses in hospitality across Australia (the majority of which are cafes) say they lost revenue in the last 12 months as a result of the bushfires and COVID-19, and 80 per cent won’t be able to recover without third-party support.
Despite their popularity, 70 per cent of Australians also worry that our cafes will never be the same as they were pre-COVID-19.
While many parts of the country are now returning to some degree of normality, with cafes open again and serving customers, others are still in lockdown, and all are suffering from the lack of tourists, overseas students, people working in offices and nervousness on the part of some customers about resuming old habits. There’s also the new habits adopted, such as drinking coffee at home, which is up 20 per cent.
But the next major problem for cafes is likely to be when JobKeeper finishes, Mr Ansell believes. “Once that support comes off the table, I think that’ll be the next moment of truth,” he said. “But if they can last, then there is a degree of optimism, long-term, about the future.
“In the meantime, we’re encouraging people to buy a few more coffees at their local cafes to support them, and help to ensure their long-term future. Our survey found that 71 per cent of Australians said they’d spend more money in their cafes than they did pre-COVID if it would help them stay open.”
That kind of support is something also cheering up Matt Byatt, who has two cafes in Melbourne, the Melvin Coffee + Kitchen in Collingwood, which has not yet reopened, and the Wolf and Hound in Flemington which is open for takeaway orders only. “The industry has taken a bit of a hit and to hear that the community values us so highly is lovely,” he said.
“The Flemington community is a great community and we really feel a part of it. We’re here every day and we’ve become friends with our customers and we’ve watched their kids grow up.”
In Sydney, it’s much the same. At Paddington’s Daily Greens, Jem Jacinto says it’s critical for cafes to play a role in community-making. “It’s been a rough year but during COVID, we’ve really got to know our community a lot better.
“We were able to be more personable and get to know the locals as they were keener to go to cafes within arm’s reach rather than going longer distances. So, we now know even more of our customers by face and by name, as well as their doggies’ names. I think hospitality has to be resilient to survive, and we’re perhaps better placed than others to rebound, in time.”
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