I've wondered since we opened how I would take it if we received a less than perfect review in a public forum, and today I read our first one on Urban Spoon:
"Good for Kenton, not me" by warmgray9 (1 review)
May 27, 2009 - Doesn't like it - I'm super glad that there's a new coffee shop in Kenton - much needed and I wish them the best - but this place was just not for me. It IS a place for moms. And kids. And moms with kids. There's a play room in the back and children are pretty much given free reign of the rest of the place as well. Makes it awesome for moms who want a place to converse, not so much for dudes who want to work.Coffee was good, cupcake was not so much good. No complaints on the service. "
I'm not sure if I'm being sensitive as a business owner or a mother. Probably both. I remember when I first started sharing my idea for the coffee shop, someone told me of another north Portland coffee shop that specifically said they did not want their shop to be a place for stay-at-home mothers to hang out with their kids, and I think I felt very much like I feel right now... I think it feels like someone saying, "Yeah, you're cool, and I'd love to hang out, but I can't stand your kid." Obviously this is the mother in me speaking/reacting.
As a business owner, it's hard to explain to people the many roles a coffee shop is supposed to play, and the difficulty one finds in trying to please each person's unique needs: work and meeting space, a place to relax, a place to get away, or as Starbucks says, "the third place" (work, home, coffee shop). I hoped to never have to choose one or the other because I want everyone to feel welcome in my shop, and everyone to feel that their needs are being met. But when one coffee shop after another starts closing their children's spaces because individuals get annoyed, parents get pushed out and have to find another place where they too can get away (they, more than anyone, need a place to get away). So I've found myself having to say to those individuals that have approached me with annoyance at the children, that parents have nowhere left to go, and although I know children can be annoying (they are usually just as annoying to their parents as they are to others), if it becomes too much, that individual is going to be welcome at every other coffee shop... and these families are not.
The other thing I'd like to address as a business owner is the importance of reviews, and a request that individuals give places (all places, not just my shop) more than one opportunity to impress you, and only after consistently poor experiences do you write a negative review. These reviews are public, and can forever change the success of a business. I sometimes wish that all of these sites had procedures like eBay does - they ask you several times if you really want to write a negative review because it cannot be changed and will seriously impact the person you're reviewing. To the writer of this review, although you said it was good for Kenton, but not for you, the review was predominantly negative, the impact of which may be poor for business and thereby Kenton. I sincerely cannot emphasize enough that what I believe warrants a less than positive review should be a consistent occurrence and one that every customer at every hour of every day will likely experience. Otherwise you are falsely creating the idea that your one bad experience is truly what to expect at all times.
To be clear, of course, children don't usually have free reign of the entire shop. It can sometimes get chaotic, but I usually find that parents quickly abate the situation if they are clearly bothering others. In my observation, the quietest times at the shop are before 10am (the earliest it's usually possible to get everyone together and out the door) and after 1pm (most naptimes). So if anyone that enjoys working at the shop is looking for a good range of hours, I would try this out.
And as a final word on the matter, I too was once childless, and can easily recall my annoyance with mothers who let their children run wild in a place I was trying to enjoy. I remember telling my husband how we would not be parents like that, and then we would leave to find quiet refuge at another spot nearby. Years later, with my own child always in tow, I can tell you that I still get frustrated when kids run wild in places I'm trying to enjoy, but now it's usually my kid, whom I've come to realize is not so easy to control, and as far as leaving to find quiet refuge elsewhere, there are less than a handfull of places left for the likes of me.