SA Life

Get CityMag in your inbox. Subscribe
August 3, 2023

Whatever happened to… wooden boards in cafés?

There are more cafés today in the CBD than when CityMag started 10 years ago. They may be better, sure, but are they more innovating?

  • Words: Josh Fanning

Whatever happened to the wood boards… cafés used instead of plates?

Whatever happened to the mason jars they used instead of glasses?

Whatever happened to the chalkboard artists they employed instead of… a printer?

I don’t know. But things have changed.


This is a weekly column by CityMag founder Josh Fanning exploring how the city has changed – or hasn’t – since he started the city magazine 10 years ago.

Read the other articles in this series here.

A plate’s a plate according to CBD cafés today.

Back when we started CityMag, a plate was a wooden board.

Everything was served on a board because, unlike ceramic, boards were made for cutting. That’s innovating.

And if your macaron rolled off onto the floor, that merely indicated to everyone in the café that you were new here. This wasn’t a design flaw but designed to signal to the cultural capitalists in selvage denim and plaid shirts around you that you were a cultural pauper. An imposter.

Now anyone can feel comfortable ordering and eating in a café in the CBD.

Today’s cafés have gone so far as to PRINT THEIR NAME on their plates so when you post a photo of your food and drink everyone knows exactly where you are.

Your followers don’t even have to guess anymore.

I don’t think we’re even deconstructing coffees anymore.

Cafés used to make it hard for just anyone to feel comfortable walking up and ordering a coffee. You used to have to know the barista to actually get a second shot in your coffee and not just be told there was a second shot in there.

Now it’s all numbers and buzzers and efficient when it used to be about innovating.

If your café wasn’t innovating—if it wasn’t serving iced coffee in an old jam jar (sustainable) – if your barista wasn’t telling you ‘drinking it black’ is the way it’s intended (ethical), if the café wasn’t playing Big L so loud you couldn’t hear (inaudible), if your latte didn’t come with a picture of a swan on top (laudible), and you didn’t have to line up with 50 other people at 8am (hyperbole) –perhaps you weren’t drinking coffee at all?

Now coffee is nice, comforting even. It makes me sad.

But then, the other week, after finishing up dinner I spied a waiter carrying something interesting across the room. He arrived at the table alongside us and set down a perfectly compartmentalised affogato. Ice cream scooped into its own tiny bowl with a Duralex Provence tumbler – empty – and an espresso in an espresso cup. DIY delicious.

And can you guess what all these items were served on?

I doffed my cap.

Share —