Is there a market for evening cafe culture in Kent’s coastal towns?

Much is being written, by people more knowledgeable than me (like Dan Thomson who runs the empty shops network ) about how to turn the problem of empty shops in our high streets into an opportunity. As someone who is involved in the tourism industry I’m also keen to see that our high streets don’t die but evolve into places that people want to visit. I have a personal interest in encouraging Kent’s coastal high streets to thrive as I live in Whitstable on the Kent coast and am a regular visitor to other coastal towns nearby, including, Rochester, Faversham, Herne Bay, Margate, Ramsgate, Deal and Folkestone. I also run the Kent’s Creative Coast campaign to encourage people to visit and stay in Kent’s coastal towns to enjoy creative activities and happenings.

Earlier this week I started a conversation on twitter by saying that I thought late night opening could help Kent’s coastal towns survive and thrive. I was encouraged by how many independent traders responded saying that they thought that this was a good idea. I’d now like to know if people would be interested in going out in the evening in Kent’s coastal towns to enjoy a type of cafe culture commonly found in ‘warmer’ European towns like Italy’s *La Passeggiata.

If enough shop and venue owners and potential visitors are interested I’d be keen to try and make this happen with other local people, business and venue owners. Maybe we could encourage shops, cafes and arts venues to  open late on Friday evenings in the summer or try to tie in with Turner Contemporary’s monthly late night live openings in Margate. Other venues like Creek Creative in Faversham, the Horsebridge in Whitstable and the Astor Theatre in Deal or the Creative Quarter in Folkestone might also be interested in taking the lead on this? You might be a creative person who would be interested in staging a creative happening or event in a shop or cafe or restaurant. You might own a shop or run a venue. You might be someone who never ventures out in the evening but would do so if you thought there was something happening on the street. Whoever you are and whatever your idea I’d be love to know what you think. Please add your comment here or contact me; catriona @ create in kent dot co dot uk

*with thanks to Susan Hubbard

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38 thoughts on “Is there a market for evening cafe culture in Kent’s coastal towns?

  1. This sounds great. I would love to have a place like that in Folkestone. I would definitely gang up with a few friends and meet there on a week day night! Bring it on!

  2. The Bottle Shop in Canterbury will be hosting regular beery tasting evenings at Fort’s Cafe in Margate on the last Saturday of every month. We’ll bring eight of the finest beers we’ve got in our cellar and give people the chance to try some really amazing bottles. We really believe in giving cafe’s a new lease of life after 6pm as they’re often in great locations, have an established customer base who would like to use them in the evenings but don’t necessarily want a coffee and a piece of cake at 9pm. If anybody would like to come along then give Fort’s a shout or you can book via Eventbrite at http://bottleshopfortscafe.eventbrite.co.uk

  3. I agree that a cafe culture in Whitstable would be good and make a change from pubs. Its a shame that more independent cafes and shops don’t stay open a bit later or have a late night, but I do understand and agree with some of the other comments that it could be costly if empty etc. Having said that though, it has to be tried and maybe it’s time for a culture change. So I’m saying yes, I would support later opening independent cafes and shops.

  4. A key to keeping high streets alive and buzzuing is for them to be unafraid of change. The town centre in Faversham is a good example of that, with more cafes opening, plenty of specialist shops and new market stalls. Some cafes have opened in the evening, but demand hasn’t justified them continuing. However, I am aware some traders and cafe owners are interested in opening to tie in with events, eg, by artists and musicians so that could be a way forward.
    Laurence Young (Manager, Faversham Enterprise Partnership)

  5. I agree, coming off the beach, quick shower, mooch around the shops, evening meal with your family and a coffee or icecream in a little bar/restaurant. We do have great restaurants and bars in Broadstairs.

    But there are a range of issues. I’ve been out in Broadstairs in the middle of Summer on a beautiful, hot night, and most of the bars, restaurants were empty. As a business owner who’s sat in a virtually empty business for days at a time, its totally disheartening. One restaurant announced today that it is closing. Our businesses aren’t supported and we don’t have enough people using the town. There isn’t a lot of incentive to remain open longer than necessary sporadically in case visitors might pop in. There’s a whole culture change required.
    And some of our business owners have made lifestyle choices, so don’t want to remain open late.

    I have developed a major event for Broadstairs, and cafes opening at night would benefit it and hopefully they would benefit too from the amount of people we bring into the town. We have more events we’re arranging too. We hope to encourage some of our cafes to remain open to support them. I have spoken to one of the main operators who are considering this.

    But we have our eye on the long term, and a late night scenario that brings in an older, less wild clientele is very attractive.

  6. As far as Whitstable is concerned, the reason I use the oft-maligned Costa Coffee is that it’s open till at least 6.30 (think it may now be 7pm) and early on a Sunday morning.
    I’ll never forget the day I went into an independent cafe at 3.30pm and was told ‘we’re just closing’…!
    Many people who would like to use local businesses work out of town Mon-Fri so have little opportunity.
    I love the atmosphere in Italy between 5 and 9pm when whole families, couples of all ages (some very elderly) and small well-behaved groups of young people stroll around grabbing an ice cream, coffee or snack and browsing in the shops. More sociable than closing the curtains and watching the telly for five hours.

  7. Here in Ramsgate we already have a bit of this culture going on – we’re very lucky in our range of cafes and eateries, which are actually extending now and producing less of the everyday and some more interesting interpretations – the Royal Harbour Brasserie, Caboose and Queen Charlotte being some of the best examples. My shop Nice Things (www.nice-things.co.uk) is right on the harbour and I stay open whilst there’s people around, which is usually till around 7pm on a summertime weekend. It’s the only shop on a stretch of eating and drinking places, so although this means it gets a bit lost, it also means I can take advantage of nice evenings and that time (much like in Italy) around 6pm when people come back out and want to wander. Cafe/restaurants like Caboose also open late. I’m always surprised that little shops close at 5.30 (or earlier) – I find you have to make every possible opportunity count to survive! There are problems though, aren’t there, with trying to develop this culture – one is weather, where we simply don’t have the guaranteed good conditions to make a regular commitment to being open work; the other is matching offer to audience, and there needs to be an organic growth perhaps to get this. I know it’s there in Whitstable, but I don’t think it is in most of the other Kent seaside places. The only other warning – you have to be careful of the establishments and not encourage the ones that develop into a huge party scene which suddenly becomes a blight as the night progresses – we certainly have issues of this on the harbour in summer, with a general sense of dismay from the boat owners at some of what goes on and the noise until 3am.

  8. Agree with all above. It needs critical mass to get it started so that it is worthwhile for all businesses. So an East-Kent-wide, co-ordinated weekend as a starter? With music and other entertainment? Part of Kent’s Creative Coast week? Something like the White Nights initiative (though we’re not quite ready for all-nighters yet!)?

  9. Faversham definitely needs a cafe or two that are open in the evenings. At least Jittermugs stays open until 6.30pm. Once upon a time (not that long ago) everything shut around 4.30pm, which I couldn’t believe when I first discovered the fact, literally traipsing from cafe to cafe only to find the each one closed or closing. While I love pubs, it would be great to have an alternative for catching up with friends or meetings. From the posts above, it sounds like Faversham is not alone either. A great idea Catriona!

  10. I would love for this to be the case all around the UK. It is a shame that we havent been able to take this kind of inspiration from Mainland Europe and the US for something to do in the evening which doesn’t have to include drinking alcohol. I love a glass of wine as much as the next person but sometimes it would be nice to be able to go to somewhere where you could get a hot drink and sit and chat with friends after 6.30. I also agree with the person who says about outdoor film screenings, they have started doing this in places around London and it is really popular and a great way of getting communities together. I also like the idea of evening markets, a handmade take on late night shopping, this could be easily done towards Christmas in halls or even in cafes. I also know of an evening cafe thats has very recently opened in a small community in North London which has a small handmade shop and runs weekly quizzes and live music evenings. It would be so great to have these kinds of places run all over the UK.

  11. This is just my personal opinion. On the face of it, a late night cafe culture would be lovely and an alternative to the pub in the evening.

    But it is a bit of a catch 22, there has to be enough customers to take advantage of it and enough cafes who can afford to stay open.Sandwich has a small population.

    So what would attract people to come out of their homes:

    Possibly an evening market with stalls put together by local shops – as an alternative to late night shopping?

    Pedestrianization of certain parts of the town would be great and would allow cafes to have tables and chairs outside.

    However, if Dover District Council go ahead with possible plans to sell off the Cattle Market car park to a supermarket, parking near the centre of the town could be a big problem. Although it could be advantageous to businesses on the Quay.

    In order to do anything in Sandwich, there would have to be communication, cooperation and cohesion between the various organisations and interested parties – a huge project in it’s own right!

  12. Hi there, I’m looking for people in the Whitstable area who can see the benefit in creating a lively fringe festival, as an extra tool in the Art/Tourism/Entertainment business. It’s a complex business, exploited well by Edinburgh and Brighton, and Whitstable is uniquely placed in North/East Kent to benefit. There is nowhere else better placed to benefit from a 3day fringe event. Get in touch with me on twitter, @whitfringe if you want to hear more.

    Chris Guy is a musician and producer of small-scale theatre, resident in Whitstable

  13. Loads of potential for a cafe culture. Our weather doesn’t help at this time of the year, but I remember visiting Stockholm some years ago when it was chilly in the evenings, and all the tables outside the bars and cafes had lovely blankets on them and outside heaters, making it more welcoming. Anyway, as a writer, I like the idea of giving/attending author talks or events in nice cafes after the day job is done. This could be a mutually beneficial arrangement for the cafes and the writers.

  14. Deal has several great coffee shops, however we don’t have an evening culture other than pubs, so if you’re not into pubs you’re stuck. Starting this year, one of our old derelict seafront venues is being rebuilt to make new shops (including a cafe & a small square) and apartments above. There is talk of restricting traffic nearby & pedestrianising the area near the seafront which I hope could be the start of an evening cafe culture. For some reason we don’t have late night shopping either and you’d think that being a quaint old town by the sea we would at least make the effort during the warmer months.
    One area which has be greatly improved is outside Dunkerleys Hotel, the Port Arms and the Kings Head which is used for music events. But again it’s pub based. Deal is a wonderful place, totally unlike the seaside towns of Margate & Ramsgate,it is described as a town beside the sea rather than a seaside town and you can feel the difference. I am sure that many from the town would love to see more happening in the evenings than just the pubs…I know I would.

  15. Great idea, I think! I went to the switching on of the Christmas lights in Whitstable and we were saying that a beer tent was missing, to make it more of an event. Other things that I could see working in Whitstable (as that’s where I live) is an open air film showings in the garden of the Umbrella Centre (or anything there: such a fantastic, but underused space!), “Whitstable by candlelight” outdoor Christmas market stalls in the High St with choirs singing in different venues, more music at the Yacht Club outdoor space (we had a wedding there and they had a band playing, which was great – The Harbour cafe when it’s open already adds lots to the atmosphere in the harbour area): lots of possibilities!

  16. I think this would definitely be great in Faversham, Nathalie is right, freelancers and especially those working from home would enjoy a place to chat and swap ideas in the evening that isn’t a pub (though we do love the pub). There may be an issue with planning permission if the space has a flat above, but somewhere like Creek in Faversham would be fine.

  17. I think this would definitely be great in Faversham, Nathalie is right, freelancers and especially those working from home would enjoy a place to chat and swap ideas in the evening that isn’t a pub (though we do love the pub). There may be an issue with planning permission if the space has a flat above, but somewhere like Creek in Faversham would be fine.

    Anyway, I’m in!

  18. I think that cafe culture is one of those ideas that everybody supports – it’s a hard thing to see the downside of! Over a few years I’ve been involved with a number of projects that have had this as one of their aims, but it’s rare to actually see it work.

    Some people think that this is because of our climate. Personally, I think this probably isn’t as big a factor as people think. About 7 years ago I went to Dublin, in February, and saw how entrepreneurial bar and cafe owners had capitalised on the EU-smoking ban by providing really high-quality outdoor spaces, with heaters, which really added to the street-level atmosphere. If it can be done in the rainy republic in Winter, there’s no reason why something creative couldn’t get people onto the streets in Thanet.

    You’re absolutely right in your blogpost to link the idea of cafe culture to late-night venue and shop opening. There needs to be a reason why people would want to visit Faversham to sit outside in the cold, but its amazing what people will endure (and even enjoy!) when they’re having a really great time, and sharing it with friends. I don’t think late night shopping will be enough – I saw some very sad looking shopping centres in the run up to Christmas, with fed-up staff working late and not selling very much at all.

    Ultimately, I think that two things are really important for getting this kind of culture to thrive on Kent’s coast. The first is getting the offer at the seafront right. This is the USP of a coastal town and will convince people to make that extra journey, when Canterbury, Maidstone and Ashford are all trying to steal the same crowd. This doesn’t need to be expensive, and it doesn’t (always) need a new landmark building – things like lighting, public art and street cleaning can make a massive difference.

    Secondly, some of these empty properties might the best contribution to the local economy by being turned into housing. Places thrive when people live there; visitors alone will never create exciting communities and destinations that people want to visit. We keep trying to think of new commercial uses for empty retail space, but coastal towns need more people, especially more young people, as much as they need more shops. A seaside town centre that bustles and buzzes will bring people out, even in the depths of the north sea Winter!

  19. Well I would think this idea can be very popular with creative people, many of them working on their own and wanting to relax, chat and meet others after working hours. It is not quite the same as during the day, when you are in a working mood. In the evening, it’s more for pleasure. And it’s also good networking, quite a vital thing these days… So, I would definitely support something like this and encourage arty places to go for it…

  20. I do think that an evening cafe culture would be brilliant for the Kent coast even if it is just for the summer months and more creative events would be a bonus. I also think that the fab town of Herne Bay would benefit from more shops and cafes being open on a Sunday during the summer in order to make the town more of a weekend destination.

  21. In Broadstairs,it would be a bonus if coffee shops were open more than 3 days a week and open after 3.30pm. We have two in prime High Street slots that open Friday and weekends only …from midday to mid-afternoon.

  22. I think that it is a great idea and one that would really enhance evenings in Deal. We often have visitors grumbling that even on a saturday the shops and cafes all close really early. However I do think that the economics of staffing cafes/shops to be open late is an issue. Its all very well wanting to go for a stroll round shops and maybe having one coffee but if its costing businesses money to be open they just wont be able to continue particularly in these testing times ! I think weather also an issue as sadly the italian climate a little more conducive to the evening of an enjoyable evening stroll…

    Having said that I think it would be great to give it a go over the summer months on specific organised evenings where there are a good number of local shops, cafes etc open perhaps focused around an event. In Deal what about trying to organise this in conjunction with music and arts festival in July or having a regular friday evening of each month or something. There needs to be a critical mass of businesses involved and also it needs to be well advertised so people know its happening !

    I can only speak for Deal but there are certainly lots of people who would welcome events such as this.

  23. Great idea – would love too be able to be able to spend some evenings wandering around interesting shops and galleries, having a coffee or a glass of wine, taking in an exhibition, meeting friends etc. Good if it could tie in with events and exhibitions that draw more people in – as seems to be happening in Margate. As others have said, when you work during the week it squeezes the time you have left to enjoy (and support) the local offer, so a later night cafe culture would be brilliant. Somebody suggested Friday night, which seems a perfect start to the weekend and might help create a more mixed evening economy in our coastal towns. Good luck. Hope it happens!

  24. Sounds like a fantastic idea! There’s never much to do on the coast in the evenings but with lots of commuters living on the Kent coast this is the only time they do have to spend money locally. Would be especially fruitful in the summer months with lighter evenings. I have worked in a clothes shop in Whitstable and always note the amount of people who come in just before closing over the summer- coming off of the beach when the sun goes down and looking for more to do. It would keep the high streets going and certainly be something a little different to attract people. Other than dinner out or a drink in the pub we’re rather short in the ground for evening activities. Could be fantastic- very excited at the prospect!

  25. In regard to Whitstable I would have said that the time was right for such an initiative. The days of unruly behavior especially at the weekends, in the High Street and Oxford Street, because this where most of the pubs are located, has diminished. Prior to that it was an area to be avoided. As part of the evolution of our High Streets from purely commerce to commerce and socialising this would also give residents the opportunity to reconnect with the heart of the town and community.

    I’m sure that there are many people that don’t go out locally in the evening unless for the occasional meal because the option would be a pub, which tend to be noisy, difficult to communicate in and for the best part not really child-friendly.

    In saying that, the economics of having a café open for the evening full of people who are making one cup of coffee last for the duration are not really viable. It would though give the independents an opportunity to engage with locals and tune their businesses according to the feedback.

  26. I’d love a change in culture for early evenings, but it’s not just the cafes who should be responsible…

    I love life in Europe, cafe’s filled until late, relaxing with drinks amongst friends spilling out on the streets. But there’s lots of points which need to help support the cafes…

    Free parking after 5,
    More outside seating,
    Relaxing music laws on occasions,
    Local businesses supporting scheme with staff drinks after work once a week?
    Live performers on weekends?

    I’m not an expert…. Just wanted to throw my two pence in…

    I look forward to having a coffee with you Catriona in the summer!

  27. This is such a great idea Catriona. I would be so thrilled to be able to get a #latecuppa and cake in Whitstable! I adore The Belgian Bar in Ramsgate which is open really late (until midnight!). Yes it’s a bar but it doesn’t feel alcoholic. Amazing bohemian atmosphere, (huge yet intimate, arty, family friendly) makes me feel like I’m on hols when I visit!
    I do appreciate that it means more work (although hopefully more benefits) for owners/staff so am wondering if cafe owners might consider hiring their venues out in the evenings. They’d get a fee (from someone trustworthy obviously!), the hirer would make money, the cafe would gain more loyal followers and we’d get a #latecuppa! What do traders think? What are the potential probs and can we overcome?
    Hope so!

  28. I think an evening cafe culture is a brilliant idea. I think combining the cafes with evening workshops/events is also a good idea. As someone who has experienced living by herself, it would be nice to socialise in the evenings instead of running on a treadmill in the gym. Great post Catriona!

  29. We already stay open for as long as people want us. So while we “officially” close at 5pm, the latest we’ve closed (so far) is 8pm on a lovely summer evening. We’d happily support an initiative – we’re sure there would be more businesses and more customers if there was a focus to “gather round”.

  30. Purely from following Twitter & Facebook, I would say this has already begun in Margate. Forts Cafe, GB Pizza, Simon at Harbour Arm & several others leading the way encouraging get togethers through music, comedy, book club, quiz nights, special food nights etc. Many of Margate Old Town shops stayed open late for special events being held in December, liaising with each other to advertise the fact. I visit Margate from London, staying in B & Bs when there’s an evening event, so an evening cafe culture could benefit B & Bs.

  31. Dave Eggers ran a tutoring support system for kids based at an old store. This had to be legally ran as a retail store so they set up a Pirate Supply Store at the front of the shop with workshops held at the back. It’s a great story and an interesting insight into the potential use of an empty shop: http://826valencia.org/store/about/

  32. I know of some pubs that are very hospitable to run small group activities for free in their space. Very interesting. I’d be happy to help set something like this up. Will mail you!

  33. I moved to Faversham a year ago and I would love it if things opened later. It would be better to see more of a mix of people on the streets as at the moment it’s often just bored young people who can create a rather unwelcoming atmosphere. It would be great if there was somewhere to go in the evenings that isn’t a pub, not necessarily for dinner but for either a coffee or a glass of wine and a few nibbles. Like many people in the town I need to commute to London for work and, try as I might to support the local businesses, I really only get one day a week to spend money with them. When we lived in London we used to often eat dinner at home and then go out for a walk followed by coffee and dessert in a cafe. It would be great if we could do this again.

  34. I would love to see a cafe’ culture here. I think we’re lucky to have so many pubs still open, but cafe’s will create opportunities for different kinds of audiences and would work well as venues for programming and live events. The more that is open, the more people will come!

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