Let cafes burn

Harris Coffee has done a little survey at YouGov in some hope of getting barista bailout:

  • 70% of Aussies are worried Australia’s cafés will never be the same again
  • Almost five million Australians claim to have missed their local café more than pubs and clubs during COVID-19 Just under ten million Australians said they felt isolated from their local community due to café closures during COVID-19
  • 71% of Australians would spend more cash at their local café now compared to prelockdown if it helped to keep them open
  • 70% of Australians see their local café as the centre of the community, ahead of other amenities including the post office and
  • 70% of Australians travel to regional areas around the country just for a new and unique café experience
  • Two thirds of small business owners in hospitality (majority of which are café owners) are worried that Australia’s next generation will be too scared to work in cafes as a result of the recent disruption to the industry
  • 80% of small business owners in hospitality (the majority of which are café owners), won’t be able to recover from recent hardships without third party support
  • 43% of small businesses in hospitality (majority of which are cafes) said that without third party support they wouldn’t be able to stay open for longer than six months from now.
  • 89% of small businesses in hospitality (majority of which are cafes) say they lost revenue in the last 12 months as a result of the bushfires and COVID-19, more than half report they have lost 50% or more of their revenue over this time.
  • Almost nine in ten café owners are concerned that the decline in regional tourism resulting from the COVID-19 lockdown travel restrictions will be ongoing and negatively impact the number of customers who visit their regional businesses once lockdown restrictions ease

And? There are clearly far too many cafes for the new virus order. There were already far too may before that. If some go out of business then others will be more profitable.

More to the point, this is Australia’s services anus economy that was always going to prolapse and now is:

It struck me as I sat there that it was wonderfully convenient to have a Thai massage joint just around the corner, especially given my local shops are not very large. I briefly surveyed the other shops and realised swiftly that what I was looking at was the lion’s share of the Australian services economy supply chain. Nearly all of it was directed not at the production of anything, nor the supply of anything, nor the inputs to some factory, but at servicing my person. Specifically, it was mostly targeted at various components of my body. There was an inordinately expensive organic grocer for my stomach. A retro barber for my head. A manicurist for my nails. A tatooist for my ink. A specialist wine purveyor for my tongue. A gift store for my birthday. A shop front personal trainer for my flab. An Asian tailor and presser for my clothes. Any number of cafes of course. And a real estate agent on every corner.

I realised that it was I that was the factory. My body, or more to the point, my mind, my intellectual property, was being supported my an extensive supply chain of services that plumped, fattened, thinned, preened, pressed, fluffed, trimmed and massaged me into the ongoing production of ideas.

There was one thing more that was obvious. These various services were not just the slapdash Aussies of yesteryear. There were no lackadaisical loafers working for the man and hanging for a smoko. Each of the services on display was a finely crafted specialist, an artisan in his and her craft, immensely serious with extraordinary attention to detail. The massage offered a limitless array of options right down to your chosen incense and its specific impact upon your chakras. The barber wore a perfect replica suit from the 1920s and sported enormous mustaches to match. The personal trainer rippled in the window. The grocer glowed with ruddy peasant health and one could almost smell the fresh loam on her fingers. The cafe’s were a rival for Tate Modern in their timberwork and ceramics, and one could literally choose a vintage decolletage in which to hang as if riding in a time machine.

The amount of effort and innovation going into finding a competitive edge for the privilege of servicing my sagging flesh was spectacular.

Which brings us back to our “deconstructed” coffee. That cafe owner should not be criticised. She is the apotheosis of her milieu, an economic figment generated straight out of the forces of production that our betters have unleashed upon us. She is the services economy in all of its pathetically misplaced glory. Even the Domainfax fascination with the deconstructed coffee is more whirring widgets for GDP!

And that’s the thing. All of these local shops are a hive entrepreneurial beavering. But all of them are directed inwards in an endlessly dividing paradox of insignificance. None of them is tradable, as services mostly are not, so none has the chance to flower much beyond the local shops, let alone nationally or internationally. That poses a problem for the economy because if all you ever do is service one another in more elaborately infinitesimal detail then there is no actual wealth generation going on. There was no organic capital generation, no capital deepening nor breakthrough’s in efficiency. The capital that drives this machine by definition comes from outside of it in the form of a visitor, a new buyer of a local asset or someone that has borrowed to invest.

That farcical coffee is a microcosm of Australia’s entire troubled economy. All superstructure and, increasingly, no base.

Let the cafes burn so we get more competitive to restore the base of a productive economy.

Houses and Holes
Latest posts by Houses and Holes (see all)


  1. I bought the last clearance Harris coffee in our local Coles. 6 bucks a Kilo. Thought they must have gone broke, have they ?

  2. SnappedUpSavvyMEMBER

    Nah what would a whole generation of boomers do if they couldn’t hog a cafe table for 3 hours every morning to read the RE section

  3. Yep, these excess service businesses should never have existed in the first place. The only way they were financially viable was bringing all our unborn and childrens spending power/wealth forward into our pockets by massive increases in debt.

    I wasn’t around in the 50s, 60s, 70s, but, I imagine there wasn’t 4 travel agencies to the one main street/mall, multiple real estate agencies, multi cafes, multiple bloody everything service related.

    Hell, back in those days they probably had manufacturing or something to employ people. Damn oldy times, why have manufacturing when you can have uber eats instead. Pointless service businesses for the win.

    • Yup, back in those days, you had a pub, a church, a movie theatre, a petrol station (that provided service so that you didn’t have to get out of your car!) and a couple fo shops that provided food (also ready-made sandwiches and cakes), clothes and houehold goods that you actually needed.
      In those days, you actually painted your own nails if you wanted to, and you didn’t get your haircut by a hairdresser until you were old enough! A simple life.

      • Pair of hair clippers purchased in 2004.. RoI outstrips every investment I’ve made by a country mile!

  4. We don’t need a country full of zombie cafes kept alive by JobKeeper. In the new economy we won’t have bored white collar types opening a cafe because of a passion for coffee

    • truthisfashionable

      The real nightmare would be we end up with nothing but the big chains surviving.. Imagine how fast our cafe culture would die if only the Coffee Club, Gloria Jeans, Soul Origin, Michels Patisseries were to survive.

      Think I better go to my local tomorrow if I don’t want this to happen.

      • Narapoia451MEMBER

        That was my exact thought. I usually make my own coffee, so don’t spend a lot of money in cafes, but that would drop to zero if those were the only options. Please lord our dog, don’t let Aus coffee become like the coffee in the US.

  5. alwaysanonMEMBER

    I went to my local for the first time in ages the other day. A couple coffees, a couple scrambled eggs and a little Halloumi with pretty average service was like $35. I forgot how overpriced the whole cafe experience is…

    • Jumping jack flash

      $12 for a sandwich from the place next to my work. I made the mistake of going there once. Never again.

  6. boomengineeringMEMBER

    Hope that was $35 each otherwise you wouldn’t have left any for the sparrows

  7. The funniest thing is seeing Australians carry on like they know what good coffee is, there is a massive difference between a latte and a cappuccino, one has coffee, milk and foam in equal parts the other has coffee and foam. Every coffee shop I have been into will differentiate latte, cappuccino and flat white as one having chocolate powder sprinkled on it and the other two being the same with a different name.

    • bodacious tatas

      The most ridiculous is a long mac topped up. Just order a god damn flat white or latte!

  8. My local cafe was also a bookshop and had live music. It shut a few weeks ago after trading for 47 years which made me very sad as it was a second home for me.

    I know there’s too many dud coffee shops, but seeing a long term profitable business killed by the virus was a huge bummer.

    Thanks bigly, CCP c0cksm0kers.

    • rob barrattMEMBER

      Yes, appalling. My local epicure restaurant followed the same path. I might never again inhale the sweet odour of baby panda poached in it’s mother’s milk…
      We must remain stoic to the last.

  9. That second essay was very well written. A great piece of insight. It gives structure to many negative ‘feelings’ I’ve had about our services economy but not been capable of turning into an articulate argument.

  10. LOL ppl care that much about going to cafes? y?

    like how is sitting there at a table in a cafe by yourself drinking coffee surrounded by ppl at other tables drinking coffee who are all ignoring U being “part of the community”, i might as well just be sitting at home on my computer

    normies are weird

  11. Bodacious Ta-tas

    “It was wonderfully convenient to have a Thai massage joint just around the corner…”

    Nothing better than a visit to the local run ‘n tug after a long day in the office, eh? 🖐🍆💦

  12. “” Each of the services on display was a finely crafted specialist, an artisan in his and her craft, immensely serious with extraordinary attention to detail.””
    Yeah right!!! … maybe if you live in an affluent, middle to upper class suburb less than 10 km from the Melbourne CBD and even then you will pay through the nose.
    I live in a working class suburb just under 15 km from the CBD to Melbourne’s West and the local area has become takeaway food wasteland with a very small number of decent cafes.
    Over the last 10-15 years, many of the take away places have been bought up by Asians and Lebanese and the quality of food has taken a dive. The only safe bet is pizza and even then you have to be careful where you go.