How many accountants does it take to run a cafe?

And the answer is… well, read on.

If we call this an anecdote, then that would be professionally a bad thing. So let’s call it a case study.

Near where we live there is a supermarket. And this supermarket is getting a refurbishment. Some aspects seem worthwhile, such as a new cold cabinets which have doors to be more energy efficient. But then there are other ‘improvements’, and to the cafe in particular.

The ‘old’ cafe, now closed to make way for more shelving, was perhaps not the prettiest place ever built, though it had large windows and space to move around. But it was the staff that made it distinctive. The same staff team worked the cafe and kitchen, and had got to know many of the regulars. M–, an elderly and quite frail lady who would get a lift in for her regular hot dinner. R–, a direct and vocal older gentleman who was harmless if somewhat opinionated. A disabled woman with her children each weekend. An evangelical man, always in a neatly ironed tank top, who would quietly minister his small flock, one to one with an egg ‘n chips. Yes, people might linger because it was airy and the staff were good. And this was probably its downfall.

The cafe clearly was not an efficient use of prime floorspace. In a few months, when the refurbishment is finished, there will be a new cafe. But smaller, at the back of the shop, lost in a dark corner without windows, and with the limited menu of heated-up ciabatta rolls. A standard design that is already in place in their other stores.

Speaking to one of the staff recently, their manager had been surprised to be told that someone had phoned Careline to report the closure of the old cafe. A better manager would not have been so shocked.

But some costs don’t show up in a spreadsheet. No doubt the head office accounts people have the figures for earnings per square metre of floorspace. But they couldn’t run a cafe for people. So the answer is, none.

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