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When Did Cat Cafés Become Popular? History & How They Work

Written by: Lorre Luther

Last Updated on February 5, 2024 by Catster Editorial Team

scottish cat in a cat cafe in thailand

When Did Cat Cafés Become Popular? History & How They Work

Cat cafés allow people without pets to enjoy the company of friendly kitties. Most offer some refreshments, but the cats are clearly the big draw. From massive cat towers to vertigo-inducing runs hugging the ceiling, these cafés are usually full of toys and cat towers for the felines to nap.

The first cat café in the world, Cat Flower Garden, opened in Taipei, Taiwan in 1998. The restaurant quickly became popular among local patrons and tourists, primarily from Japan. Just a few years later, in 2004, the world’s second cat café opened in Osaka, Japan, and cat cafés began opening in North America in 2014. Cat cafés became popular mostly due to the combination of having friendly cats around while being at a café. 

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Why Did Cat Cafés Become Popular?

Cat cafés first rose to popularity not in Taiwan, where the concept originated, but in Japan—Osaka, to be exact. And even then, the idea took a while to gain traction. The first cat café in Japan didn’t start serving customers until 2004. Cat cafés quickly became popular throughout Japan, and the country has more than 150 cafés, more than 35 of which are located in Tokyo, where apartments are often too small to comfortably house pets.

Tokyo’s cat cafés take things to an entirely new level, often featuring simply gorgeous interiors highlighted by stunning feline-friendly features. The first cat café in North America opened in Montreal in 2014. Before long, cat lovers in Oakland and New York City could head to their own local establishments. By 2019, more than 120 cat cafés had cropped up around the United States.

cat cafe in thailand
Image by: Phatthanun R, Shutterstock

How Do Cat Cafés Work?

Some cafés serve coffee and tea in one area and have a separate space for the cats to hang out. Others combine the two, allowing people to sit and have a piece of cake while enjoying the feline company. Many have fun write-ups about the individual cats, with information about the animal’s background, age, and breed.

Some cat cafés are run by rescue organizations and double as adoption centers, giving potential cat parents a way to meet pets looking for a forever home. And others are “staffed” exclusively by stray cats who have no intention of going anywhere.

Most require reservations, but some accept walk-ins if there’s enough space. The vast majority limit the number of human visitors to prevent overwhelming the cats. And all have strict rules against pestering and harassing the residents. Many permit petting but prefer for the cats not to be picked up. Others don’t allow patrons to pet or touch the cats at all. Some establishments ask patrons to avoid petting or picking up particularly skittish cats.

Employees often leave dry food out for the cats to enjoy throughout the day as they please, but sometimes they feed the kitties during scheduled feeding times to give you a chance to see all the kitties in action.

If you visit during regular non-feeding hours, chances are good that some of the cats will be napping or hanging out in a cozy, enclosed cubby. Most businesses provide healthy treats you can buy to increase your chances at feline interaction! But giving cats human food is universally forbidden, as is bringing in outside food of any sort, even cat food, for the cats.

The policy does two things: it prevents cats from consuming too many calories and keeps them from eating human food, which often contains too much fat and salt for kitties. Be prepared to defend your plate if you order something tasty at a café where the cats can roam freely. The fact that they’re not allowed to eat human food won’t stop a clever feline from attempting to get a pawful of whatever is on your plate.

asian woman playing with cats in a cat cafe
Image by: Boyloso, Shutterstock

What Is the Atmosphere Like at Cat Cafés?

Most cafés have free Wi-Fi for patrons and places to set up and charge electronics like laptops and tablets. And there are often comfy couches and cushiony chairs to curl up with a good book. They tend to be inviting places that welcome parents with children, solos, couples, and even groups of friends.

Some people make a reservation, take a seat, order a coffee, set up their laptop, and type away for a few hours without interacting much with the cats. Others curl up with a book in their hand and a cat on their lap and barely bother with their tea. But there’s almost always a conversation to be had, as it’s virtually impossible not to begin commenting on the various adorable feline antics around you.

Almost all cafés provide human visitors with basic café fare, including coffee, flavored beverages, and tea. Some include one hot drink with their cover charge (if one is required). Almost all have sweet options, such as cakes and pies, but some have a few savory choices on the menu, such as sandwiches.

Some establishments only offer soft drinks, coffee, tea, and prepackaged snacks due to local health regulations prohibiting the commercial preparation and serving of food anywhere live animals are to be found. But there are also stylish places, such as Paris’ Le café des Chats, where you can enjoy French bistro classics in the company of the café’s cats.

Prices at these establishments vary. Some charge a flat entrance fee and offer a la carte drinks and snacks for you to order and pay for separately. Others charge a fee and provide patrons with free coffee or tea as part of the deal. Most work using time slots, so there are limits on how long you can legitimately visit with the cats, although most places will allow you to stay past your reservation as long as no one’s waiting and there aren’t that many other patrons present.

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Being around cats offers tons of benefits! Hanging with a furry friend is a sweet way to reduce your stress and boost your mood. An afternoon watching feline antics is always good for the soul, and cat cafés are the perfect place to head for a bit of feline love, particularly if you don’t have room in your home for a cat.

The first cat café opened more than 30 years ago, and now, you can find them all over the world, including in places such as Rotterdam, New York, and Phnom Phen. These cafés first gained popularity in Japan, where they gave people in urban areas without enough room to comfortably have a cat places to enjoy the loving company of a few friendly felines.

Featured Image Credit: Phatthanun.R, Shutterstock

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