RAIN sidetracked my wife and I from our regular jogging track and led us to a row of boutique eateries at a block of condominiums which opened for occupancy about a year ago in our neighbourhood. Each time we passed by the area on our way home, we wondered what attracted the crowd to the eateries there. That evening, the weather gave us the excuse to find out.
We picked the outlet that was most crowded — a high-end coffee shop. There were hardly any seats left when we arrived, save for a table at a far corner of the common five-foot way that had been claimed by the kopitiam. As soon as we were seated, a waitress brought us the menu.
Since we had already cooked dinner, I ordered two cups of black coffee and a couple of toasts and passed the order form back to the waitress.
Just as we were about to enjoy the old world charm of the kopitiam, the waitress arrived with our food. I was about to heap praises on her fast service when she passed me the bill. Two cups of coffee and two small slices of toasts came up to RM14.95, inclusive of tax.
I complained about the bill to my wife. She said the prices were more or less the same at most modern kopitiam. I had to consider the cost of the free Wi-Fi, fine furniture, courteous staff and other overheads, she added. I was lucky I did not order other food as well. Otherwise we would have had to cut back on our expenses for the following week to make up for our indulgence.
When we were done and I paid the bill, I dared not ask the cashier to keep the change after giving him RM15 - I did not want him to think I was insulting him, so I took the five sen change.
I left the shop no wiser as to why, despite the pricey food, the crowd continues to throng the kopitiam and several others like it each evening. If their food was not much different from the many that I had seen, then it must be the free Wi-Fi and decor that did the trick, I told my wife.
But these are the places where young people hang out these days, said my wife, except for the poorer ones who hang out at the stairways of shopping complexes. Another interesting point was that the foreign coffee chains, which used to monopolise the cafe business, are now being given a run for their money by hyped-up local coffee shops — an old business which everyone thought would not survive past the millennium.
In the old days, only retirees and the jobless hang out at the coffeeshops to engage in idle chat or a game of mahjong. You could order a cup of coffee for much less and would not look out of place if you stayed till sun down. The owner might even allow you to catch forty winks while you were there if you did not drool and dirty his marble tabletops.
Today, the younger crowd has taken over the seats at modern coffeeshops. They are not just watching the world go by on their laptops but doing so over cups of brew that could, in regular doses, not only hurt their health but also their pockets as well.
Judging by the prices at these designer eateries and their increasing popularity in the city, one can only guess that many of their younger customers are from the high-income bracket or were born with silver spoons in their mouths. Otherwise, it will be quite scary to think where these big spenders will end up a decade from now if they are not earning enough to meet their daily needs today.