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Info espresso at the cybercafé

"NUMBER five wants a cappuccino," Tim shouts and I leap into action, trying not to panic as I grapple with a steam nozzle that seems to have a life of its own. Outside, it's a dreary, rainy day in Guildford but inside, behind the bar at Quarks cybercafé, I am too busy - and, let's face it, having too much fun - to care.
I am here in answer to a challenge from Xan Phillips, Webmaster at Quarks. In October I wrote an article about the growing popularity of cybercafés in which I jokingly remarked that "with plans also afoot for such an establishment in the far reaches of Guildford", the age of the cybercafé really must be upon us. Unfortunately, there is a cybercafé in Guildford. In fact, there are four of them. Understandably annoyed, Phillips wanted me to make amends by spending an afternoon working at the cafe.
Quarks is in central Guildford, with bold yellow furnishings and walls painted to look like blue sky. Tim and James, who double as barmen and technical advisers, are friendly and cheerful. There are only five computers, but it's enough to keep the staff busy.
My afternoon begins with a brief introduction from Tim to the art of capuccino making and quite soon a customer arrives and needs help logging on, so I am left to fend for myself. Soon another customer walks in wanting a capuccino. I rapidly discover the process is far harder than Tim had made it look. Eventually I produce an anaemic-looking capuccino with a layer of foam so thin you need a microscope to see it. Thinking that dealing with computers should be rather easier, I join James, who has been introducing a first-timer to the ways of the Web. I suggest I take over and soon discover that, aside from the ability to make a good cup of coffee, patience is a virtue crucial to the aspiring cyber-host. Things I've done so many times that they seem second nature are alien to Net novices and require careful explanation and repeated reminders. Sensing I am causing more confusion than progress, James takes over again.
The customer who ordered a capuccino asks me to show her something interesting on the Net. Realising that I am starting to enjoy myself, I persuade her to sign up to The Times website. Another capuccino is demanded and this time I am determined to get it right. Even Tim has to admit that my effort is "a damn fine capuccino".
I ask Tim why he chose to work here. "It's fun," he says. It's certainly an intriguing balance of traditional waiter work and understanding modern technology. It's definitely not as easy as it looks. And as more cybercafés open in Britain -- with ever more sophisticated menus and computers - it's a job that will rise in demand and prestige.

ADAM BARNARD

Quarks Internet Cafe,
7 Jeffries Passage,
Guildford,
Tel: 01483-445 117
Or visit http://www.quarks.co.uk/

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Last modified: April, 2000