Let’s get chatting – to a stranger!

Do you go for a tea or coffee on your own sometimes? On those days when you do pop into a local café, would you go and sit at a table designated especially for people, probably on their own, who fancy/need a chat, if it was offered to you? Through the Chatty Café Scheme, such a table – a Chatter & Natter table – is available. It creates a space for people to talk, whether you have 10 minutes while you drink a brew, a regular 30 minute break from work, or an hour for good conversation. It’s designed to allow simple interactions between people that might help to ease loneliness and have a big impact on someone’s day. Maybe even your own.

The scheme is the brainchild of Alexandra Hoskyn who, in a supermarket cafe with her young baby one day, looked around her fellow customers and realised she wasn’t the only one who was fed up or even lonely. “I started to think about the positive impact we could all have on each other if we could have a chat. I know from experience that when you are feeling lonely, a short interaction with another human can really brighten your day,” says Alexandra. It was from those early musings that the Chatty Cafe Scheme was born, and now over 400 cafes and coffee shops, including the Costa Coffee chain as well as independents, have adopted the scheme.

I’m a keen champion of the ‘social table’ for solo diners in restaurants, and this is a similar concept that I could get behind. So, eager to try out a Chatty Cafe for myself, I looked on the Scheme website  (http://www.thechattycafescheme.co.uk) to see if there was a participating café near me in Leamington Spa. I was chuffed to discover that there were 9 cafes listed in the Coventry area – including Costa Coffee on The Parade in Leamington. (I’ve listed the other participating cafes in the area at the end of this piece.)

I went along last week and interviewed Joe Gittins the Manager of Costa Coffee on The Parade, to find out how the Scheme was going down with staff and regular customers. Joe explained that the Scheme was still under trial by Costa with a ‘soft launch’ in around 50 branches nationally in the last 6 months. Joe was enthusiastic about the Scheme’s allocated table as a stimulus to get people who may be alone, with few regular contacts, to talk to each other. He explained that he had seen regular customers come in alone but, after chatting with each other a few times, now came into or met at the café for coffee together. Great result!

Joe told me that, to test the water with regular and potential new customers, a table for 6 in the centre of the café, identified by a ‘Chatter and Natter’ table-top sign, is made available every day between 2 and 4pm. The table is used by some customers, but he admitted that, in a café as busy and popular as his branch, empty tables don’t stay that way for long, and customers wanting a seat move the sign without registering the content. Joe conceded that staff could do more to educate the customers about the Chatty Cafe concept generally, wear the Scheme badges and mention the table, when it’s available, to people (like me) who come into the branch on their own. I can see that Joe would make an excellent host, encouraging people to use the Chatty table and sitting at it occasionally to get a conversation going!

It’s early days for the Scheme but I hope it really takes off as it is completely in-tune with Government Strategy to reduce loneliness (without overt labelling) through targeted, positive, community activity. And it’s great that Costa Coffee, by championing the Scheme in some of it’s branches, recognises that, in the age of social media connectivity, what most people are thirsty for is a good old face-to-face conversation –including with a stranger!
Try a café out and get chatting!

Chatty Café Scheme participants in the Coventry area include
Costa Coffee at:
The Parade, Leamington Spa
High St, Knowle,
West Orchards Shopping Centre, Coventry
Sainsbury’s, Canley superstore, A45 Coventry
Tesco, Leicester Rd, Rugby
Melbick’s Garden Centre, Marston Green
Independent cafes:
Mosaic coffee shop, Ryton-on-Dunsmore
Farmer’s Fayre Farm and Coffee Shop, Stoneleigh Park CV8 3LZ
The Wellspring Coffee Lounge, Methodist Church, Albany Rd, Earlsdon, Coventry CV5