There are some oddly-theme cafes and restaurants over the years, like one with a hospital motif that served cocktails like they were IVs or, to go to the logical conclusion, a coffin-themed establishment run by actual undertakers. Or the run-up to either: a cafe that reproduces the experience of a 7.8 level earthquake.

The former seems to be out of business, while the status of the second is unclear (unless it is as persistent as death and taxes), and maybe people are too shaken to know if the latter is open or closed. But however novel such things seem, they often fall into the fad category. A novelty can be a great way to first catch attention or get initial business, but it's a tough thing to sustain. That's why people call them novelties, because they come and go.

But the following cafes may have moved beyond novelty and obtained a truly distinctive existence with a natural audience. That's because their owners have moved beyond form into substance. The style answers a need of the business and the clientele. This is the rare place where marketing, operations, and strategy all become one.

No laptops

The August First Bakery & Caf in Burlington, Vermont doesn't allow laptops. That might seem unheard of in modern cafe society, but it was a smart move. When the place opened four years ago, students came in to get a cup of coffee, use the free Wi-Fi, and stay. And stay. And stay. It's a terrible business strategy because you greatly reduce turnover and the chance to make additional money per seat. Smartphone users can keep their screens on, at least for the time being. Although some people complained, sales went up, as you might have expected.

Pay as you go

Another variation on dealing with the in crowd--the people who come in and don't leave--is changing the basis of payment. Ziferblat in London lets patrons drink as much tea or coffee as they like and stay as long as they want to chat, play piano, create artworks, read, use the free Wi-Fi, or just sit around. Instead of charging for food and drink, Ziferblat turned that model on its head and charges for time people remain there. That keeps the money coming in and avoids potentially damaging relations with customers because there is never an interest in pushing people back out the door.

Mobile work space

There's another twist on charging for space. Urban Station is a chain of cafes in Argentina that are really work spaces. Work is why many people head to a place with Wi-Fi initially, so why not really play up what they want? Services include extra-fast Wi-Fi, printers, photocopiers, scanners, fax machines, lockers, meeting rooms, reception service, and more. It's an office away from the office, and a smart take on what local customers might really want.

Coffee with a side of laundry soap

There are cafes with Wi-Fi. There are Laundromats with Wi-Fi. Now there's the Wash & Coffee, the combination Laundromat and Internet cafe with full coffee service in Munich, Germany. It's another natural concept that surprisingly hasn't spread much further. In a city, Laundromats are a must. When people load the machines, they don't necessarily have a lot extra to do, so they may go elsewhere and come back. That means machines occupied while someone else waits to see if the owner will shortly remove the clothing. But at the Wash & Coffee, the place makes extra money from people buying coffee and using the Internet. When the wash is done, it's time to leave, so the extended stay without extended payment is neatly circumvented.

Cat cafes

Having cats roaming around a cafe will sound silly to those who aren't cat fanciers. However, it's a smart set-up that started in Asia, where many people aren't allowed to have pets in their apartments, or haven't enough room. So the cats provide an actual service and aren't just window dressing. Proof of the concept: It's spread to Europe, Canada, and the United States. There are few things as powerful in commerce as understanding all the needs of your customers and taking care of them, even if they don't necessarily seem to be part of the business you're in.