Austrian cafes to accept poetry for coffee

How cool would it be if you could pay for something - a cup of coffee, for example - by writing a poem? Well, on Saturday March 21st coffee drinkers can do exactly this, with poetry becoming a new form of currency at cafes across the globe.

Austrian cafes to accept poetry for coffee
Photo: dpa/Bildfunk

To mark Unesco’s World Poetry Day, Viennese coffee roaster Julius Meinl is offering any customer who will hand over one of their own, handwritten poems a free dose of caffeine at 1,100 cafes, bars and restaurants across 23 countries – mostly in Europe but also in the US and Australia.

It’s not clear if baristas or waiters will give you any feedback on your literary efforts, or if they will retain any rights to your work.

You can find participating outlets on the campaign’s Facebook page – and share your experience with the hashtag #PayWithAPoem on Twitter.

Interview: Marcel Löffler, CEO of Julius Meinl 

A statement from Julius Meinl, which was founded in 1862, said that the inspiration behind the move was “a desire to recapture the traditional cultural benefits of Viennese coffee houses, a culture steeped in tradition that has drawn the best from artists and writers for more than a century”.  

In an age where technology rules, it’s a chance to “show the world that feelings are more valuable than money”, it added. 

Some of the traditional coffee houses in Vienna which are participating include Cafe Weimar, Cafe Hümmel, Cafe Körb and Cafe Museum.

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Every fourth Vienna cafe ‘forced to close’

Vienna is famous for its coffee house culture, which has even been recognised by Unesco as part of Austria’s cultural heritage, but many of its cafes are struggling to survive.

Every fourth Vienna cafe 'forced to close'
Vienna's Café Bräunerhof. Photo: Andreas Praefcke/Wikipedia

Every year one in four cafes is forced to close, according to new figures from the Vienna Chamber of Commerce.

Berndt Querfeld, who owns the historic Cafe Landtmann on the Ringstrasse and represents coffee houses in the Chamber of Commerce told the Kurier newspaper that the majority of the 2,500 coffee houses in Vienna are finding it hard to make ends meet. “The ones that are doing best are the around 120 or 130 historic coffee houses in the most favourable locations,” he said.

However, despite some cafes having to close up shop the total number of coffee houses remains around the same because of the relatively high number of new cafes opening each year. “Many of these only last for about six months,” Querfeld said. He added that newcomers on the scene underestimate the challenges that lie ahead, and some simply close down their business to avoid paying a high tax bill.

According to Querfeld some of the reasons why cafes are suffering are the stricter rules regarding non-smoking areas, the new EU law which means they have to label all ingredients that contain allergens, and the introduction of compulsory cash registers as part of the tax reform.

The economic crisis has made punters behave more frugally when visiting a coffee house. “More often than not a customer will order a piece of cake with a second fork for their companion. It’s even becoming a rather chic thing to do.”

Slot machines have also been banned from cafes recently, and Querfeld believes that this is putting many smaller cafes in less central locations out of business. “If they had a slot machine or two they could afford to sell snacks and drinks at lower prices, but this isn’t the case anymore.”

The heyday of the Vienna coffee house was the turn of the 19th century when they were frequented by well-known writers, artists and politicians. Many famous Viennese cafes had to close in the 1950s due to the popularity of television and new espresso bars.

READ MORE: Five unusual cafes not to miss in Vienna