6 Lessons for Supporting Community Cafes

by Ari Pliskin

On November 18, Unity Tables hosted a pilot webinar with 21 current and aspiring community cafe leaders from around the world.  After completing the webinar, 100% of respondents said they would recommend Unity Tables to other cafe leaders.  Here are 6 lessons we learned:

1. Business Planning is the Right Focus

Graduates of our first community cafe incubator said they would like to see our sessions deliver a single concrete product.  We decided to focus all of our webinars on creating a comprehensive business plan for that purpose.  

2. Leaders Need Detail

Leaders expressed a desire for nitty gritty detailed plans and best practices based on successful and unsuccessful cafes.  They want to know specifically what it takes to launch and sustain cafes.   

3. Varied Facilitation Works 

Unity Tables' mix of visual presentation, guest speakers and group participation received high reviews. The content we presented also received positive reviews, though not as positive as facilitation.  We believe this is because of the next item: 

4. More Segmentation Needed

We were pleasantly surprised to see participants join from two broad communities.  About 2/3 of participants are familiar with the One World Everybody Eats principles, have 6 or more people on their team and are either already serving or are in advanced stages of planning.  The remainder were at earlier stages of exploring the possibility of starting a cafe.  Many of the experienced leaders came from the existing OWEE community while most of the others were newbies recruited by Unity Tables staff.  Trying to cater to such a wide range meant that the content was somewhat basic for the more experienced groups.  In the future, we will offer a separate introductory webinar for groups in the exploratory phase.  

5. Community & Hunger matter most (though environment matters too)

90% of participants said that either building community or increasing food security was their #1 priority.  At the same time, 80% said they also sought to promote environmental sustainability.  

6. A Community of Practice Needs a Forum 

In order to build a connected movement of cafe leaders, we need to create a forum on which newbies and existing operators could build relationships, ask questions and get feedback from each other, existing operators, and OWEE and UT staff.