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feline hungry the growing feature
Regardless of whether you’re a fervent feline fanatic or more committed to canines, as you cannot have failed to notice that the Japanese craze for ‘cat cafés’ has reached our animal-loving shores.

The UK’s first cat café opened up in the unlikely town of Totnes back in 2013, but the most famous of its kind is inarguably Lady Dinah’s Cat Emporium which has been bringing cat heaven to London since March 2014.


A photo posted by Lady Dinah (@ladydinahscats) on

Since observing the success of Lady Dinah’s, several more cat cafés have launched around the UK. Edinburgh, Newcastle, Brighton and Nottingham all boast their own thriving and independent cat cafés, and Manchester, Liverpool and Birmingham are next in line for their own slice of the trend. Each cat café has its own unique character – like cats themselves – but what they all have in common are the several cats that typically live on-site and are free to mingle with visitors, who pay to enter and can enjoy drinks and snacks while they interact with the resident felines. Some cat cafes are even offering activities, such as craft afternoons or 'cat yoga' sessions with the moggies!    


For those of us in the hospitality and catering industry cat cafés are a fascinating phenomenon, not least because we’re aware of just how strict the Health and Safety Executive’s regulations on food and animals can be. But before we discuss the finer details of opening and operating a successful cat café, let’s take a look at the reasons why they have become so in demand in the first place.

Why the UK cat café trend is lapping up success

There is no doubt that there is a strong novelty factor behind the explosion in the UK cat cafés, which we first discussed in our post on novelty restaurants in early 2015. But unlike cereal cafés and pop-up crisp sandwich restaurants, there is believed to be a deeper, more psychological influence behind the cat café trend’s success.


According to research carried out by the Mental Health Foundation in partnership with Cats Protection, cats are great for our mental health, with 87% of cat owners believing that their pets make a positive impact upon their wellbeing. However with so many people in the UK unable to own cats or other pets due to their living situation, lifestyle, or financial restrictions, cat cafés are the ideal solution, offering people access to the ‘purr therapy’ they crave without all of the commitments that would come from cat ownership.


Many cat cafés have also been set up in partnership with, or with a considerable amount of input from local cat rescue organisations, which appeals to more altruistic customers. The cats are almost always rescued themselves and owned by the staff, with the café becoming their ‘forever home’, and café management staying in close contact with the rescue to ensure the cats’ welfare. Proceeds from the café are also usually donated to the rescues as a symbol of their ongoing mutual support, so visitors can enjoy the warm, fuzzy feelings that they’re helping the warm, fuzzy residents to live happy and cosy lives.

Avoiding a cat-astrophe – health and hygiene considerations in cat cafés

Anyone working in the restaurant or catering industry is bound to be curious as to how cat café entrepreneurs have navigated the strict hygiene regulations around animals and food, and the legalities around animal licences and the welfare of the cats themselves.


A photo posted by Lady Dinah (@ladydinahscats) on

Animals are actually permitted to be in cafés by the Food Standards Agency, but their legislation mandates that “reasonable precaution” must be taken to prevent any animal from entering areas where food is prepared. To adhere to this, cat cafés usually do not cook or prepare any food on-site, instead buying in ready-made foods such as sandwiches and cakes from outside suppliers and using gates or doors to keep the animals out of the rooms where any (human) food is kept. It also goes without saying that cat cafés must be cleaned very regularly to keep fur balls under control, and you can expect to see HEPA air purifiers running to ensure the air is fresh and allergen-free. As for legally keeping animals on business premises, applying to their local council for a performing animals licence is how many cafés have addressed this issue. Though with cat cafés growing in popularity, it won’t be surprising if we see cat café legislation put in place in the near future – especially as the first Leicester cat café was closed down over hygiene concerns just weeks after opening.  


Many employees are also trained or qualified in working with animals, as the welfare of the kitties is the most important consideration of all when opening a cat café. The cats are always given their own private space to retire to when they do not want to interact with visitors, and the cafés are often open for only a few hours at a time so that the cats are not overwhelmed with people coming and going throughout the day. Visitors to cat cafés can expect to be asked to adhere to certain house rules, and remove their shoes so they don’t trail in any dirt or accidentally step on a protruding tail. We spoke with the owner of Newcastle venue, Mog on the Tyne to find out what really goes into running the purr-fect cat café. Here's what Katie Jane Glazier had to say.


Remember to catch us on @channel5_tv tonight at 8pm! ?? www.mogonthetyne.com #mogonthetyne #catcafe #newcastlecatcafe

A photo posted by Mog On The Tyne (@mogonthetyne) on

What made you think that Newcastle was ready for its first cat café?

Good question! Having lived in Newcastle for many years, I felt that it was missing more alternative café experiences. There aren't even that many independent cafés these days. The idea of opening an independent café with a new twist was our focus - realising that we could do this with cats was a lucky coincidence which came out of seeing a documentary about Japanese cafés that the BBC showed a year or two ago. Basically, we were convinced that Newcastle has a huge market for things that are a bit different - we're sure it's not all about football, beer and chips! The current boom in more interesting new bars, cafés and restaurants seems to back our theory up... 
What were the biggest challenges, or obstacles that you had to overcome when setting up the café?

Phew, where do we start? Finding premises was really hard. Property is expensive in the city centre and good locations get snapped up really quickly by folks with a lot of financial backing. Finding the right cat shelter partner was also really tricky - more difficult than you would think. We were really lucky to find out about our partner, Westgate Ark, from the City Council. The licensing and food health and safety side were also challenging but we built a really good relationship with the Council who helped us immeasurably.



What were the particular legal considerations that you faced?

All of the above! We had to study hard and make sure we hired the right people to ensure we had the knowledge to build the processes and procedures we need.
What are the major on-going challenges of running Mog on the Tyne? (E.g. cleanliness and maintenance?)

Every day is hard work to ensure everything is super clean and tidy. The cats help a lot as you can imagine! Making sure we have the correct food supplies is always a challenge with fresh food and cakes. It's a balancing act made easier by having good relationships with local suppliers like Pet Lamb Patisserie and French Oven Bakers.


What do you know now, that you wish you had known before you started the process of setting up the café?

How popular and busy it would be! We would've been more prepared on the staffing front. We had to pull in lots of friends to help in the first two months as we couldn't cope with the demand!
What is your most favourite part of running Mog on the Tyne?

Meeting new people from all backgrounds and all parts of the country every day. We had no idea that the demographic of visitors would be so wide. People have travelled from all corners of the country to visit us which has been amazing. The ongoing positive response from the public and the media is brilliant. Working with the team here is also fantastic - given that we didn't all know each other four months ago, it's pretty amazing how well everything has come together. It really is like a big family (plus the furry element too!)



What has been the most surprising thing about setting up or running the café?

The wide demographic of visitors has been amazing - every age group, all backgrounds. We have also love how people have responded to the cat family. The interactions have been great and the fact that Stan has become a big star is wonderful. We're not sure that was such a big surprise though. 


If you could offer one piece of advice to someone thinking about setting up their own cat café - outside of Newcastle, of course! -  what would it be?

The main piece of advice is to plan, plan, plan. We spent a year planning this and we still could've done more!


If you own a cat café and would like to share your thoughts, we’d love to hear them! How have you tackled cat café hygiene and legislation, and what are the most surprising things about owning a cat café? Leave us a comment below. On the other hand, if you’re thinking of setting up your own cat café, take a look at our range of catering supplies to help make it a success – from tableware and crockery to those all-important restaurant cleaning supplies."


Lockhart Catering on 2 December 2015 11:52 AM

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