Café Culture

Buenos Aires Travel Blog

 › entry 3 of 5 › view all entries
A striking feature about Buenos Aires, or Argentina in general (judging from my experience with this in Mendoza as well) is the plethora of small cafés and restaurants.  They are everywhere.  Especially in Mendoza it was particularly easy to notice, in that on same street as our hostel, you could look in any direction a see a small bar or café.  This type of café culture is a welcome change to the fast food, big chain, Starbucks life of the United States.  And why is there this apparent difference?  Buenos Aires is a big commercial city with the presence of McDonald’s, Burger Kings, Havanna café chains (although, you can’t deny their amazing alfajores), and despite these places, there is a thriving small-business-owner culture here that allows small “mom-and-pop” restaurants and cafés to exist and compete against the “big guys”.

Perhaps a reason for this stems from the culture, the slower pace and respect given to meals and social gathering I mentioned in my first blog post.  People would rather choose the smaller, more comfortable café just around the corner, rather than the larger, more commercial-feeling chain restaurant.  Also, I feel that people tend to have more personal connections to their neighborhood and their friendly neighborhood café just down the street.  There is a level of personal connection between the customers and cafés that enables these small businesses to thrive.  Another factor that seems to be polar opposites of that in the United States is the aspect of pricing.  In the US, let’s say I try to open a small burger joint across the street from a McDonald’s.  I would try everything I could to attract business away from McDonald’s, by providing better food and service, while still trying to pull off a profit.  And this could be extremely difficult.  The economics of owning a small business and trying to compete with low prices of an international restaurant chain are stronger not in my favor (i.e. the Wal-Mart effect).  I would most likely be hard pressed not to succumb to the pricing advantages of McDonald’s.  However, in Argentina, this doesn’t seem to be the case.  One thing I have noticed here is that prices in the smaller cafés are much lower that those from larger chains (and I could be slightly biased seeing that I haven’t eaten in many chain eateries here) and the service and quality is higher and more personal.  So how come corner cafés and restaurants can thrive in Argentina with the competition of the big guys? One answer could be sheer numbers.  I haven’t seen that many McDonald’s or Burger Kings in Buenos Aires.  There are tons of small restaurants that are more attractive the passer-by and neighborhood local.  Also, people here are willing to respect the smaller guys much more, and thus they have, not only economic advantages, but also cultural backings to support them.  

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