Cafés

People visit different kind of cafés everyday, for a cup of coffee before work, catch up with a long lost friend, or to get a quick bite. We visited different kind of cafés to see if these kind of public spaces defines itself as a space of encounter, being a place were you can also meet new people, from different age, culture and wealth classes. As Vancouver is known for its diversity and inclusion, we wanted to see if people really had this image of Vancouver and if the concept of these cafés stimulated these places as a space of encounter. And if not, what kind of idea the community of Vancouver has to improve cafés and Vancouver in general as a space of encounter.

Enjoy this music to feel the café vibe!

Save on meats

Save on Meats a is diner located at East Hastings. They serve “Family Style” meals to reduce waste and encourage positive socialization over food in a retro style diner, but you can also casually drink a beer with friends in the late evening hours. Next to providing affordable meals to a diverse group of customers, they also collaborate with A Better Life Foundation providing meals to support some of the city’s most vulnerable and equip recipients with the nourishment and strength to persevere through challenges most of us will never know.

“These meals are not just critical to survival, they contribute to the success of continued education, active recovery, positive social experiences and much more. More than a resource for people outside of ours walls, the preparation and execution of these meals provide meaningful employment for folks in our community – the majority of which identify as having been or being marginalized themselves who we need to keep employed and supported amongst full business closures in our industry” – A Better Life Foundation (2012)

To support homeless people in the community, Save On Meats provides special diner tokens, which can be bought by guest during their stay. These tokens can be gifted to people who cannot afford to buy a warm meal themselves and they can hand it in at Save on Meats for a nice warm meal. Next to this, this cafe hires people with a rough and complicated background providing them with a fresh start to build up a stable live. Additionally, they also organize special events during the evening to include and welcome people in the community, for example a drag show. Therefore, Save on Meats welcomes a diverse group of customers and supports diversity and inclusion in the community. 

Click here to visit their website: https://saveonmeats.ca/

Click here to visit the website of A Better Life Foundation: https://www.abetterlifefoundation.ca/

The entrance of safe on meats. Rick’s radio station is located next to the entrance and is called Save on Radio. Scroll down to see who Rick is.

Save on meats as a retro-style diner.

“Save on Meats is a good place in general. However, I do not think that charity can solve the problem of homelessness. Giving food to homeless people implies that you do not want to support their drug addiction. Nonetheless, drugs can work as self-medication as well. I meet most people in Vancouver through the music community by having my own radio station (in front of the cafe) and meeting people at shows and concerts. In general, I think that it is hard to encounter strangers in cafés and actively communicate with them as many customers come accompanied. Therefore, I would recommend to go to places you like, in order to meet people that might share your interests.”

- Rick (30)


Click here to listen to Rick's radiostation: http://v4.mystreamplayer.com/saveonradio

“I am very comfortable going to cafés myself. As I grew up in Indonesia as a white man, interacting with people from Vancouver or other cultures is no problem. I hate being a tourist, I want to be considered a local. Inclusivity is something you are born with or you learn it. The token idea is great and I support it in other cafeés. However, I did not know they had it here too. In my opinion, a balance of food, knowledge, roof and mind is needed to survive.
To meet new people, first impressions are very important. This can help reduce any kind of barrier. However, from my perspective, people in Vancouver usually have cliques.”

- Ash (27)

Revolver

Revolver is a coffee spot located in Gashtown. One side of the café is considered the socializing area containing benches across each other for friends to talk (see photo). The other side is more used for people to work, read and concentrate. This side has tables including sockets for people to charge their laptop. This especially attracts student and working people to study or work here, next to the fact that there is also public WiFi. Due to the prices of the coffee (about 3.50-5.00CAD) and clean interior, it is considered a more fancy coffee place. 

“Revolver is about two things: Coffee and the experience that should go with it. Our coffee program is simple, but precise. All drinks are made fresh to order – after you order it, never before – from a rotating menu of our favourite coffees from world class roasters around North America and beyond. We like being consistent, so we measure and weigh every variable there is, until there isn’t.” – Revolver (website)

 

Click here to visit their website: https://revolvercoffee.ca/

The entrance of Revolver with chairs located at the window were we mainly saw people working or reading.

The “socializing side” of revolver with benches across each other to stimulate people starting a conversation.

“I am a regular customer at Revolver, so about five times a week. I would consider this an social place because many people talk to each other here. This is partly due to these nice benches were you can easily start a conversation (see photo above). You see artists, coffee lovers, relatives or friends, from different religions and cultures, as Vancouver is a very multicultural city. Revolver is a very welcoming place and I think encounter occurs most often in younger age groups (20-40). There are also a lot of tourists coming here. Hence, this place is very diverse. I, personally, write here a lot, because this cafe gives me a creative and positive energy.”

- Thomas (26)

“This café is quite dark due to all the black accessories and dark walls. The music is very loud and therefore it is hard to communicate with others. A lot of people are working here so you do not want to disturb them by starting a conversation. We think nightlife and bars is an easier way to encounter new people or outdoor activities, because you share interests. This can overcome the barrier in starting a conversation. To improve the diversity and interaction is this café, you could include board games or something on the table to talk about. This café could also easily sell alcohol which will give the café a different atmosphere, because people will less likely be working. However, we think that in Vancouver in general, there is still a lot of division in the community, even though the mentality to change this is there.

- Kelly (24) and Sarah (25)

Matchstick Café

Matchstick Coffee Roasters has multiple affiliates spread through the city centre. The Matchstick café on the pictures is the one located in Chinatown. Matchstick is a modern and simplistic coffee place. The café located in Chinatown is the second Matchstick café which opened in 2014. This expansion was used to broaden their goal of including a kitchen to move their entire food program in house. Therefore, this affiliate also sells daily spread including croissants and pastries, sandwiches and salads. This specific affiliate also has 6 taps with rotating local beers and ciders, thereby also supporting the local breweries. Matchstick roasts its own coffee because they want to feel connected to and responsible for growing green coffee. Due to the prices of the drinks (about 3.00-4.50CAD) and the great variety of food, it is also considered a more chic lunch/brunch café. We observed that most customers are locals, students and working people.

“Our company exists because we see purpose in getting our hands dirty, and because we believe that one minute longer doesn’t have to mean one minute wasted.” – Matchstick

Click here to visit their website: https://matchstickyvr.com/

Modern styled inside of Matchstick, with a lot of lightning and people mainly sitting on their own reading or having a break from work. 

The entrance of Matchstick.

“This is actually the first time that I sat down at this place, because I usually get takeaway food and coffee here. To me, Vancouver as a whole, is a good space of encounter because it is possible to follow many different activities here. Rating how good you can encounter someone in this café is a little hard for me because I am generally very introverted and do not like approaching strangers. I think that not having WiFi could improve meaningful encounters as people might be forced to interact with one another.”

- Isabella (21)

“We come here regularly and think that this café conveys a very friendly atmosphere. There is a big table which is really nice for conversations and interactions. However, since we usually do not come here alone, we have never engaged with strangers. As an improvement, the owners could put little cards on the table with “ice-breakers” in case you want to engage in an interaction with your neighbor”
Emma: “To me, sport activities are a good possibility to encounter new people, because I imagine it to be difficult to approach people without any common ground. Moreover, having a dog also contributes to meaningful encounters. Charlotte: “I think that encounters in this place are not worse than other cafés. I like that you can decide whether you would like to share a table with a person you know or not.”

- Emma (26) (left) and Charlotte (26) (right)

“I came here to do some work today. It is a very clean, open and bright place and the people working here are also very friendly. However, this is not really representative for Chinatown as this is a relative new café with a modern interior. I would consider myself more as a person that observes others rather than engages in conversations. Because many people here are also working or studying, I would not describe this place as a space where you meet new people. In order to bring people from different groups together, it would be helpful to have an open barista who is very outgoing and embraces diversity. Next to this, the music is a bit too loud, which makes it harder to have a conversation. Finally, I think less expensive coffee would be a good means to facilitate encounter between different groups within the community.

- John (43)

Concluding remarks

 During our trip, we observed that coffee cafés are more private spaces, eventhough it is a public place, meaning that people  mainly come here for a few reasons, namely quick break with coffee, working or meeting up with people they already know. We observed one chance encounter in a coffee bar, where two older men who did not know each other were talking to each other. However, they were both men, both the same age group and looked quite similar when it came to their appearance, so this encounter was not very much one between different subgroups. All the other people we spoke to also said they hardly ever spoke to someone they did not know in a café. 

Pubs on the other hand allow for encounters way more, since people go there to socialize and meet new people, as well as often drink alcohol which makes it so much easier to approach people. Including alcohol in the coffee cafes was therefore also a suggestion of our interviewees to stimulate new encounters. A few other suggestions were to exclude WiFi to destimulate people to look at their phones, turn down the music, put objects on the table to talk about or add a variation of boardgames.

During the trip, we also wanted to go to catfé (cafe housing cats to pet during a coffee), however this place had an entrance fee of $10 which is quite expensive for most people. This makes it less attractive for different people to enter and encounter each other. However, we expected the cats to be a common interest of visitors and therefore a great tactic for people to break the ice for a conversation and therefore, a meaningful encounter. The expensiveness of the coffee in the visited cafés was also mentioned a few times, as a barrier for many people to sit in cafés decreasing the diversity and inclusion for such places. 

When it comes to the specific locations of the cafes, Gastown is more known for familiarity and its nice atmosphere, where people go to pubs mostly for leisure. On the other hand, downtown is more business-like, where people go for meetings and for a quick lunch or coffee, as well as friday drinks with their colleagues. This means that also the location of the cafe influences the extent of encounter. 

Click on the image to see how the city of Vancouver explains diversity in the city