“ Cafe at a tennis club in Eastbourne, East Sussex. „
After a visit to The Love Cafe on Norman Road in St Leonards on Sea I always feel a tad exasperated and confused. The words I often hear bandied about in relation to The Love Cafe are 'community', 'arty' and 'warm and welcoming', however I have visited the cafe twice now and I have sadly not found it to be a warm and welcoming place. It's true that the walls and ceiling are decorated with bold pieces of art, but the reception I have had from the staff there has not been warm and has always made me feel like an outsider while in the cafe.
At the time I visited the cafe I was organising the Hastings Sling Meet and we wanted to hold one near Warrior Square train station again for those commuting from other areas of East Sussex, so The Love Cafe seemed like a good choice. When we rang the cafe to ask if it was okay to hold the meet there on a Saturday however, we were turned away 'because the cafe can get so busy on weekends'. Surely, I thought, any cafe that reaches full capacity can simply turn people away on the day - rather than doing so in advance? But I had heard so much about how great the cafe is, that I decided to push ahead with lunching there anyway, and we planned the meet for a weekday instead.
The first time, I arrived early to scout out a large table for the group, and ordered a (somewhat pricey) squash soup. I must confess to being a bit of a wimp when it comes to spicy foods, so I asked the waitress if the soup was spicy first to avoid disaster. She told me that it was mild. It took a while to come as the cafe did get busy, and then it turned out to be virtually inedible by my (annoyingly delicate) palate. I ended up leaving the entire bowl of soup and munching through several slices of plain bread instead (I had to ask for more bread in a sorry attempt to mop up the spice; a tactic which, unsurprisingly, failed miserably). When a different waitress came to take my bowl away, she asked me pointedly if there was something wrong with the soup. I apologised for my weak spice-threshold and told her that it was lovely but I simply couldn't eat it. Now it was her turn to apologise, and she offered me something else from the menu. I told her I had filled up on bread (which had left me feeling a little sick), but I did feel relieved at not having to pay full price for the uneaten soup...
...Until I was given the bill, which made no such concession. I was annoyed by this as I realised that I should have had the free meal I'd been offered in it's place, and eaten it later, since I ate a proper lunch when I got home anyway. I don't usually shy away from offering feedback to cafe staff but the cafe was busy and when I went to pay, the staff were busy talking to each other and did not make eye contact with me, so I didn't feel that I could complain to them. Also, I was hungry and I didn't fancy waiting around only to give negative criticism.
The cafe does look warm and inviting, and it is colourfully decorated with furniture and music. But to me the cafe experience is made by the staff members, and the next time I visited the cafe, I noticed them stopping and chatting at length to friends who clearly frequent the cafe, whilst not really making an effort with other customers, like me.
I also found the facilities of The Love Cafe to be lacking. This really surprised me, as a mum from the sling meet had recommended the cafe, and she knows that I always review the facilities. The unisex toilet was very small and had no room to improvise a nappy change, even on the floor, which was cold and hard. There was also no changing table or mat available.
The second time I visited the cafe I managed to get a comfy armchair seat, but I soon realised that it was based stupidly close to the speaker from which deafening music overexcited and confused me and my child. I should have moved again but by now the cafe was busy, and I had already ordered my food. So, I left the cafe feeling fed up again, which is surprising particularly because the cafe has the word 'love' in the title! I certainly didn't feel any while I was there. So I give The Love Cafe a measly 2 stars.
And the mild suggestion that they should, perhaps, change their name...