Modern-day cafés offer much more than just coffee... take your pick from bookstores, music stations and even live bands.

Avinash Kalla

It's a neatly done-up place, where a group of youngsters is strumming a new notation on the guitar, while another group of executives is busy discussing a new business plan. Elsewhere in the room, some college students are mulling over their next move at a game of chess. And undisturbed by any of this, an old man pores over an afternoon daily. What's common to this motley group are the steaming cups of coffee.

Welcome to the modern-day cafe that isn't anymore just a place to sip a cup of brewed coffee. The lighting and spirited music that complement the spacious interiors make these coffee-shops a chill-out zone... also serving as music stations, bookstores or venues for business meetings.

"The Barista outlets provide the right atmosphere to talk business with clients," says event-coordinator Sajid Ali, who discusses all his projects at the Barista outlet near his workplace in Delhi. IT professional Raghav Gurung and his roommate Digweshwar don't like to miss out on the Saturday night game of chess at the Cafe Coffee Day outlet near Delhi's Plaza Theatre. "It's a great way to beat stress with a game of chess, sipping your favourite cappuccino and munching brownies, before heading for a late-night Saturday movie," says Gurung.

It's not just the metros, even smaller cities are opening up to the `café culture'.

Over the past few years, cafes have seen a meteoric rise in popularity. The reason for this is two-fold. One, the café culture took wings with liberalisation; and second, businesses want to capitalise on the changing tastes and preferences of youngsters. "Barista offered coffee and food in an ambience which was always happening and warm, leading to an explosive growth of coffee culture in India," says Partha Dattagupta, CEO, Barista Coffee Company.

"At Café Coffee Day people can be themselves in a free and relaxed atmosphere. Also, café chains are redefining themselves without shifting radically from their basic genre by experimenting with various formats like cyber cafes, music cafes, garden cafes and the latest fad, book dens," says a Café Coffee Day official.

Interestingly, books are the latest craze in cafes. Amidst all that chatter, wooden shelves stacked with books have managed to grab the attention of several youngsters. The Café Coffee Day chain boasts of 15 such outlets across the country, including three in Delhi. Barista too has made a beginning and plans to open 35 new corner bookstores. Café Mocha, with four outlets in Mumbai and Delhi, is also banking heavily on books. Says Shiv Karan Singh of Café Mocha, "We have around 1,000 footfalls a day and people spend more time browsing books. That is a good sign for us."

And the revenues have increased too. "They have almost doubled," says the Café Coffee Day spokesperson. Barista's Dattagupta agrees, "On an average, every third consumer entering our outlet visits the bookstore and one out of three buys a book."

All these efforts have only one aim: to enthuse the visitor to spend more time at the café. While Café Mocha has a spacious basement with 800 ft of wall space dedicated to books, Barista has done up the corner space in its outlets to create a soothing effect.

"For many, the idea of a peaceful day is to sip good coffee in the company of a book, and smoke. They crave for a relaxed ambience, away from noisy music; and we at Mocha provide that," says Singh.

Some cafes also have live bands, reading sessions and skits to entertain customers. To retain clientele, Barista has a rewards programme, while Café Coffee Day's Café Citizen programme boasts 1.35 lakh `citizens'.

(This article was published in the Business Line print edition dated July 15, 2005)
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