Food and books: two of my favourite things. In the not-so-distant past, food and drink consumption in libraries was taboo. Librarians were seen as fierce and uncompromising when they forced library patrons outside with their illicit cups of coffee and secreted snacks. However, there is a reason for the librarians’ vociferous objections. Replacement costs for spillages in books places a strain on already depleted library budgets and, more importantly, traces of food in or around books attracts vermin and insects, which like to feast on book binding glue. Insect infestations can spell disaster for a library’s business continuity plan.
These days librarians have conceded that users need their caffeine – albeit in spill-proof containers – and (tidy) snacks to keep their energy up when browsing the stacks or conducting marathon study sessions. Library footfall is essential to retain funding and, for entrepreneurial libraries, a cup of coffee and a bite to eat could be the answer.
Public and academic libraries have seen the success of bookstore cafes and taken a page out of their book! Think Waterstones’ cafes – but with free books – and the synergies between libraries and foodservice businesses become apparent.
A new US report explains how foodservice providers can determine whether expansion into libraries is viable. The report, The Survey of Library Cafes & Food Service (2014), examines cafes and other food service operations in public and academic libraries. It provides “valuable and unique data on best-selling products, revenues and sources of revenues, expansion plans, catering revenues, salary costs, seating and decor and other facets of library cafe and food service operation”.
The data covers academic and public libraries in the United States and is broken out by library size which is defined by annual library budget and visitor numbers. Planners will find answers to questions such as: “what are personnel costs for the typical cafe? How much revenue is accounted for by lunch traffic? Do cafes cater outside events and if so, how much do they earn?” Although the data is from the US, it reflects the typical use of library foodservice offerings by patrons, whether they are students or the general public.
In addition, foodservice providers can, by working with any library’s managers, obtain valuable data from the library regarding patron profiles, the type of food and drinks that might appeal, the times of day when service will be at a premium and more.
To locate further articles exploring the foodservice offering within public and academic libraries, try Libraries with Coffee Shops for insights into the benefits of mixing coffee and books.