Playing with cats while enjoying a cup of coffee—what more could you want? Cat cafs have blossomed in popularity since the first one opened in Taiwan in 1998. Expansion into the U.S. has been slow due to regulations around food preparation and animal welfare, but they’re starting to appear.
The basic concept of a cat caf is to enjoy all the amenities of a coffee shop with the company of cats. These cafs are popular with cat lovers, especially those who cannot have a cat of their own.
Businesses around the world put their own unique spin on the idea. Some have themes, such as all black cats or a particular breed of cat. Some have permanent resident cats who are professional cuddlers, while others team up with shelters and rescue organizations to help strays find homes.
The biggest challenge for cat cafs in the United States is that only service animals are allowed in areas where food is prepared and served. This is good, because no one wants a cat who just got out of the litterbox to step in their tray of fresh-baked scones, but it does complicate the layout. The two portions of the business must have separate entrances to minimize the risk of a cat darting through a door into the caf. Cat cafs are also subject to occupancy limits for fire safety.
In addition to following health-department regulations, a cat caf must meet the requirements of local animal control to ensure that the cats are properly cared for. This includes how many cats can be comfortably housed in the allotted space and standards of care. Cats need daily care, regardless of the weather or holidays, including daily feedings and litterbox cleaning.
Cat adoptions add a layer of complexity, as the cat caf must work with a non-profit entity, and a balance must be struck between having cats in the caf for people to interact with while also matching them to suitable homes.
As cat lovers, we all understand that the needs of the cats must come first to ensure that they are happy and healthy. This includes mental and emotional well-being. Many cats do not enjoy being around strangers, or even around strange cats. To judge the quality of a cat caf, look for these characteristics:
-Rules about cat handling, such as no picking cats up, no waking sleeping cats, no flash photography, and no chasing. Some cafs have age limits that restrict children’s access.
-Hiding places for cats to get out of reach and/or sight from customers for downtime.
-Fresh smell. Litterboxes should be cleaned frequently, as well as any other messes.
-Staff member is always present to make sure that customers are respecting the cats.
-Healthy cats with clean coats and in good body condition. No runny eyes, sneezing, or bald patches.
Most of the cat cafs in the U.S. are partnered with shelters to find homes for the cats. Cats staying in the caf should be prescreened to ensure that they are comfortable with people and will not be unnecessarily stressed out by being in the caf. It is also important that the cats get along—turf wars don’t make for a safe environment for the cats or human spectators. Customer-owned cats are not allowed for health and safety reasons. Adding cats from varied backgrounds further increases the risks of disease transmission and cat aggression.
So how much does this magical experience cost? A visit to the cat section of a cat caf can range from $6 to $20 for a half hour to $11 to $35 for a full hour, depending on the location and any additional amenities.
Most places recommend making a reservation ahead of time to ensure that there will be a spot for you, but walk-ins are usually welcome. Some cat cafs will even let you reserve the entire space for a private audience with the cats—this can cost up to $1,000 for an hour. Fees and donations go toward the expenses of the space, staff, and, of course, caring for all those lovely cats.