As of September 22, 2023, Flanders has experienced a significant decrease in the number of cafés, with a staggering 32.2% decline over the past ten years, as reported by De Standaard.

Research firm Locatus has revealed that since 2013, Flanders has witnessed a decline of 2,739 cafés, equivalent to approximately one café closing its doors every working day. Presently, the region boasts only 5,763 operational cafés.

Sandra Timmerman, the president of the Horeca Vlaanderen Bruges branch association, identifies various factors contributing to this ongoing decline. "Profit margins for establishments solely focused on beverage sales have dwindled," she noted. "Finding staff is becoming increasingly challenging. Simultaneously, patrons are perceiving bar outings as expensive and are seeking more economical alternatives."

Timmerman also points to factors such as the smoking ban, stricter alcohol regulations, and expensive transportation services, like taxis, as dissuading people from frequenting bars. Moreover, the emergence of summer bars intensifies competition, as city councils grant them greater flexibility to provide patrons with unique experiences. Timmerman cited an example: "Cafés on Het Zand in Bruges, for instance, are prohibited from importing truckloads of sand to create a Mediterranean ambiance. Customers are seeking that additional, distinctive experience."

Erik De Rop, the proprietor of Café de Bardot on the Oude Markt in Leuven, attributes the decline to the diversification of leisure activities and alternative methods of socializing available today. "During my youth, on a Saturday evening, you had the choice of watching a movie, visiting a café, or going to a dance club," he reminisced in his conversation with De Standaard. "Nowadays, there is a multitude of alternatives for spending one's evening, including meeting people through social media or dating apps."

To remain viable, an increasing number of cafés are expanding their offerings to include food. Evert Thys, a hospitality consultant, elucidated, "Food offers a higher profit margin, and it is easier to offset rising expenses. Various models exist where establishments can provide meals with minimal additional effort, such as finger foods. Coffee shops are progressively adopting the societal role that traditional cafés once held." Photo by Marc Ryckaert, Wikimedia commons.