Dear cafés, you can do better

Like most café-going folk, I am a creature of habit. I tend to frequent the same three on an endless loop. Recently, in the interests of breaking out of my café rut, I decided to expand my horizons.

I wandered the high street of my suburb looking for a new haunt. There followed a veritable Goldilocks journey of disappointment … in lieu of one that was "just right" I was bounced from one unsatisfying café to the next.

Cafes, this is the memo you need.Credit:Louie Douvis

Here are some of the crimes against patrons the cafés in my area are committing without shames in my area are committing without shame, and which need to be addressed.

Wobbly tables

Wobbly café tables are at pandemic levels in my local high street. How hard is it to secure tables so they don’t rock and creak like pirate ships as you try to saw your way through the sourdough toast?

(Note to cafés: have a supply of old wine corks at the ready. You cut a small slice on an angle and use it to wedge wobbly tables every morning before you open up. You are welcome.)

Please wait to be seated … So that we can completely ignore you and leave you standing in the doorway like a tit

If you are going to have a "Please wait to be seated" sign at the door, you need to have a designated "greeter" on your staff. This is because when faced with customers standing at the door, most waitstaff will employ their "customer blinkers". And this is because customers standing at the door are not yet technically "customers", therefore as a waiter, you can technically ignore them.

I stood at the door, like the sign said. And then some other group of non-law abiding diners swept past me and took the last table.

A proprietorial attitude to the pepper grinder

Notwithstanding the impressive proportions, it’s a pepper grinder, not a piece of heavy machinery that needs a license to operate. Don’t sprinkle my breakfast with a floofy amount of pepper in a flourish of fancy service and then confiscate the grinder back to its special altar on the wait-station. (And that’s only when they do actually deign to offer it to you.)

The days of diners not being trusted with the pepper grinder are over.

Every table should have a pepper grinder. The days of diners not being trusted with the pepper grinder are over.

Order at the counter and take a number on a stick

No. Just no. Firstly, that is not a level of service that warrants the prices you are all charging. Secondly it is inconsiderate of solo diners who then have to make an agonising choice between losing their table (by not leaving their bag to mind it) or losing their bag (by leaving it at the table to mind it). If you are a café, and charging café prices, it behoves you to provide table service.

Jam in packets and a miserly attitude to the butter

I don’t want to sound like a pig, but one pat of butter for two large pieces of absorbent sourdough toast, IS NOT ENOUGH! And as for the jam in packets, there’s just something about lobbing a few cheap "open-it-yourself-a***hole" packets of jelly-like jam onto a diner’s plate that says: we don’t care enough to even give the illusion that we care

GIY (get it yourself) lukewarm water offered from some fusty communal water tank

Call me Princess, but I think table water should be delivered to the table, in a frosty bottle with the required number of glasses. Lukewarm water from the tank is very triggering for those of us who lived through the Sydney Giardia crisis of 1998. And with regards to the GIY option, it yet again sets up a Sophie’s Choice situation for solo diners. Water or my handbag? Which do I need more?

Flowers as garnish If I can’t eat it. Don’t put it on my food.


The Mugoccino, it is a crime against sophisticated café society and belongs back in the ‘90s with focaccia bread, Vienna coffees and vase-shaped latte glasses.

Eight dollar milkshakes
There needs to be a Royal Commission into this phenomenon: a full audit and national NAPLAN-style publication of the results with graphs and spreadsheets. We all need to know why it is necessary to charge $8 for milk, topping and a scoop of ice cream zhooshed up in a milkshake mug.

Artisan bread seems to be evolving towards knife resistance the way viruses are constantly evolving to resist antibiotics.

Food served on planks
I just like my food served on a plate, with a rim, so that my bacon doesn’t keep sliding off onto the table.

Jenga-inspired food towers
A lot of cafes like to create a precarious tower with your food that you then have to carefully deconstruct like a Jenga game before you can eat it. So, if you have two pieces of toast in your meal, they put one on top of the other then everything else involved gets piled up on top of that ad infinitum. When combined with the wobbly table, breakfast becomes a very challenging skill test.

Toast that requires a saw
Maybe it's down to people experimenting with their sourdough starters, but artisan bread seems to be evolving towards knife resistance the way viruses are constantly evolving to resist antibiotics. If I need my dining partner to "brace" the table while I cut through my toast, the bread is TOO HARD.

Hamburgers and sandwiches that require a dislocated python jaw to eat
If I can’t eat a sandwich without the whole thing turning into a visual car crash the sandwich shouldn’t be served. Hamburgers are also becoming non-negotiable for those of us who are not pythons. These should be edible by hand without everyone else having to look away.

Penny Flanagan’s latest novel, Surviving Hal, is out now.

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