Two stories to share. Compare and contrast. Both involve trips to a cafe. And how these places communicate with you.
It’s 8:56 a.m. on a Saturday morning. Outside of South Block Cafe, a man is clearing tables and setting up chairs.
The door to the cafe is propped open. There’s no sign on the door. No “open” or “closed” cues for people passing by.
My girlfriend and I decided to go inside. We inched inside, not knowing if we were allowed in or not. Ah, screw it.
It wasn’t our first time inside the cafe. We’ve been there a few times before. We thought they might even recognize us.
“Not open yet! We’re not open yet!”
As if we walked in on a teenager with a “do not disturb” sign hanging from his door, the employees yelled at us that they we’re not open. It’s 8:58 a.m. In two minutes, they’ll open.
We backtracked out of the cafe. “That was really rude,” we both said to each other. And we left.
We went to another coffee shop a block up the rode.
About a week later, we grabbed some coffee and brunch with friends in Georgetown. We hit this spot called Baked and Wired. You should check it out.
We strolled in and noticed a long line of people waiting for their drinks. As we stood there, a person from behind the counter walked up to us and asked what we wanted to drink.
They wrote out names on the coffee cup in their hands. And then instructed us where we could pay for our drinks or choose a quiche or muffin to eat. After you pay for you meal, you join everyone else and wait for your drink.
But there is a message to set your expectation.
These simple sentences let you know to hang tight. It’s a clear message. And it reads to you as if a human is on the other end writing it. Because they are.
After my name was called, I grabbed my delicious drink and we snagged a table to sit down. The table was positioned in the back on the cafe. And in the corner there was a door with a green light illuminated over it.
People we’re walking back towards the door. And then turning right back around. Others would walk up, and then read the sign on the door, and wait outside. Some would read the sign and just walk back to their tables.
It was the bathroom.
We’ve all had the experience of finally locating the bathroom in a cafe. But the door is closed and we’re guessing if someone is actually inside. You try to knock or open the door.
You might have walked in on someone before. That’s embarrassing for everyone. You might knock, not hear anything, and then try to turn the door knob, only to be shut out. It sucks.
That’s why Baked and Wired put a green light above the door. On the door reads a simple message too.
This is a bathroom. When the light above is green, someone is probably in there.
These little messages are sprinkled through the entire cafe. They make you feel welcomed and happy to be there. It’s like your little tour guide.
You run into instructions every day. It could be to “Walk” or “Don’t Walk” across the street. Or to “sign out” of your favorite app. Maybe it’s to “unsubscribe” from an email list.
Instructions. These messages can make it easy for you or impossible. The words can make you feel at ease or angry.
Nicole Fenton, the co-author of Nicely Said, shares her goals for these messages. In her blog post, Interface Writing, she gives countless examples of how to get your point across and show you care.
Be clear. Be kind. Be careful. Be honest.
Nicole Fenton, Interface Writing
At first glance, the difference in these messages might not seem all that important.
South Block Cafe left us wondering if they we’re open and they told us to get out. Not in those words. But that’s how we felt.
Baked and Wired made it clear what to expect. It made us smile. And really enjoy our time there.
Guess which one we haven’t been back to yet?
South Block Cafe. Thanks for understanding.