Case study: Surf Spray Café

Nico and Kate have worked at Surf Spray since it opened six years ago near
Dunedin’s St Clair beach. Kate and Nico had an immediate rapport and have
become firm friends. Together, they helped the owner, George Martin, build a
solid reputation for good coffee, good food and good service.
The Surf Spray’s savouries are bought from a local supplier, but its cakes and
sweets are made in-house by Nico, a qualified baker. They include traditional
New Zealand favourites such as custard squares, cinnamon oysters and
chocolate éclairs. All of the cakes and sweets are made from organic
ingredients. The cakes and sweets are the café’s point of difference and a
source of pride to George, Kate and Nico. Most of their competitors outsource
their baking and provide more ordinary offerings such as brownies and friands.
In the last few months, George’s health declined slightly. Now approaching
retirement age, he has sold the Surf Spray Café to a new owner, Marama
Wilson. Marama has been managing a café in Sydney for several years. She
and her husband, John, decided to relocate to Dunedin because of the city’s
quality of life and excellent schools. Nico and Karen are unsure what the
change of ownership will mean for them and the future of the Surf Spray café.
Nico rang Kate late on Sunday night.
‘Are you sure everything will be all right tomorrow?’
Kate couldn’t quite hear him over the noise of the television, and she took the
phone into the next room.
‘I know we’ve met Marama,’ Nico continued, ‘and George has been fantastic,
but even so I can’t help worrying a bit about how things are going to go’.
Kate heard the anxiety in his voice.
‘It will be absolutely fine, Nico,’ she said as soothingly as she could. ‘It’s just a
normal handover from one business owner to another. Get some sleep, don’t
get tied up in knots, and I’ll see you in the morning.’
On the morning of Marama’s first Monday, things seem to be okay. When Nico
arrives, Marama is already there. Kate comes in a little later. Kate and Nico go
about their normal duties; making sure the café looks warm and inviting,
preparing food and drinks, and chatting with regular customers. There are lots
of regulars at Surf Spray, enticed in by the excellent cakes. As always, Kate’s
habitual calm works like a charm on Nico’s fussy, anxious perfectionism.
Marama is pleasant but seems a little cool, maybe just in contrast to George’s
effusive friendliness. Slightly puzzled by the work routines that Nico and Kate
have developed, Marama asks them for a short but formal meeting the next
On Tuesday before the doors open, the three of them sit at one of the tables
with fresh coffee and warm scones. Nico and Kate explain as clearly as they
can how they share their responsibilities. The responsibilities vary over the
course of the day depending on workloads, and sometimes just their personal
inclinations. They also explain that Nico starts work earlier in the day because
© The Open Polytechnic of New Zealand 3
of the baking, while Kate comes in after dropping her two primary-age children
off at school. Marama asks searching questions and makes copious, detailed
notes on her laptop. After Nico and Kate finish their explanations, Kate asks
Marama if she’s happy with the working arrangements. Does she want
anything done differently?
‘No,’ replies Marama, ‘everything seems to be good – for now anyway.’
On Wednesday afternoon things were as busy as ever. Nico and Kate keep
things moving along in the café, while Marama goes out to a meeting of local
business owners. George drops in for coffee and cake. Kate chats to him
briefly while Nico works the coffee machine.
Marama comes back just before closing time with some guests she’s invited
from her local business owners’ meeting. She takes them out to the back of the
café where a door from the tiny kitchen opens on to a small, unused yard
beside her own tiny office. Barely acknowledging Nico, she seems to be telling
her guests about plans for expansion. Marama was speaking in a more
animated way than Nico had ever seen her and there was a lot of friendly
banter within the group.
‘Yes, we could make the back yard into a seating area,’ said Marama.
Nico, who was cleaning up in the kitchen, was trying not to eavesdrop and
could hear the conversation only in short bursts anyway. But he was sure he
distinctly heard Marama say, ‘this kitchen will have to go’.
Nico’s heart seemed to sink right through his shoes and into the spotless floor.
The kitchen wasn’t his whole life, but he’d loved working here with Kate and
George. He loved being appreciated for his cooking skills, meeting people, and
feeling very much a part of the vibrant St Clair scene. Working in the café was
tiring sometimes but cooking was what he wanted to do. There were other jobs
and other cafés, of course, but this one had been – still was – special.
Noticing that Nico seemed downcast but not knowing why, Kate invited him
home to dinner with her family. Once her children were in bed she asked him
what the matter was.
‘It’s Marama,’ sighed Nico, sitting upright on the edge of his chair and fiddling
with his watch. ‘I knew things couldn’t go on the way they were – with the three
of us working so well together. George was so positive and encouraging even
when he wasn’t always well. You are so business-like but always friendly and
nice. I’ve never really had a family of my own and it was just too good to last.’
He told her what he thought he had overheard.
‘It’s not that I don’t like Marama, and we’re still getting to know her, but she
doesn’t say much. I’m really worried about what the future holds. I’m not at all
sure how easy it would be for me to get another job.’
Kate patted his shoulder.
‘Look,’ she said. ‘We don’t know anything for sure. Marama might be thinking
about making changes in a few months, or possibly years from now. Maybe
she was just chatting with her friends and nothing will come of it. Let’s have a
© The Open Polytechnic of New Zealand 4
quiet word with George when he comes in tomorrow. Maybe he knows
something we don’t.’
At the mention of their trusted former employer, Nico’s posture relaxed.
‘I agree,’ he said. ‘George has never put us wrong yet.’
On Thursday afternoon Marama was out when George dropped in. While Kate
made his coffee, Nico kept an eye on the other customers. He asked Mrs
Morrison, a local woman well known in the local cafés and feared in some, if
everything was to her liking.
‘Well, no, not really,’ said Mrs Morrison, more loudly than was necessary. ‘This
éclair hasn’t got anything like enough cream. I don’t know if things are slipping
under the new management, but it’s definitely not up to scratch.’
‘Very sorry, Mrs Morrison,’ said Nico, with as much sincerity as he could
manage, ‘I’ll get you another one right away.’ He took the éclair – generously
creamed, he noticed – and replaced it with an identical one. ‘Much better,’ said
Mrs Morrison, munching happily. ‘Don’t let it happen again, Nico.’
While this was happening, Kate gave George his coffee. Since no-one else
seemed to have an immediate need for her attention, Kate asked him quietly if
she could talk to him for a moment. Mrs Morrison, who had as keen an ear for
gossip as anyone in Dunedin, was fortunately seated some distance away.
‘George,’ said Kate. ‘Things seem to be going all right here, but Nico and I
were wondering if, when you were discussing the sale with Marama, you got
any sort of idea about her plans for the place – whether she might be intending
to expand, or maybe change things in some way?’
‘Sorry,’ said George, ‘can’t quite hear you – did you say change things and go
away?’ Realising that she was speaking into George’s deaf ear, and that she
couldn’t see his hearing aid, Kate moved to the seat on his good side and
repeated her question.
‘I think Marama does have changes in mind,’ replied George. ‘So did I, before
my health started to pack up. I was glad Marama decided to buy the business
and I’ll tell you why. Marama has a business degree and she applied her
knowledge in Sydney by taking over a failing restaurant and making it popular
and profitable. I’ve heard it said though, that she has something of a reputation
of being a tough cookie. The staff in Sydney, I believe, found her exacting –
everyone had to meet high standards as determined by her. I’ve also been told
that while she could be demanding, she was also respected because she was
recognised as being very direct, and very fair.’
Nico managed to hear the end of this conversation. Fair is good, he thought,
but fair might also mean closing the kitchen if that helps the bottom line.
To Kate he said: ‘Direct, eh? Ok, she hasn’t been very direct with us, but we
can be direct with her tomorrow morning.’
‘Tomorrow morning’ said Kate.
© The Open Polytechnic of New Zealand 5
But on Friday morning, neither of them was as direct as they had imagined they
might be. ‘Marama,’ said Kate, ‘do you have a minute for Nico and me to ask
you a question or two?’
Marama, who was making sure all the flowers in little vases on the tables were
fresh, turned around slowly.
‘Sure,’ she said. ‘What’s the problem?’
‘Well, there isn’t really a problem,’ said Nico, hoping his voice didn’t quaver.
‘It’s just that – well, Kate and I were wondering if you were planning to keep
everything as it is? Or whether you might be thinking of some changes – in
what each of us does, for example, or hours, or staffing levels – or maybe even
outsourcing the cakes?’
Marama smoothed down her hair. She sat down, and her eyes signalled to the
other two to do the same.
‘Yes,’ she said, ‘I am thinking of changes, but my ideas haven’t quite taken
shape yet. That’s why I haven’t discussed them with you before now – I wanted
to get the day-to-day feel of things before I even thought of making any
Here’s what I’m thinking so far. Surf Spray is a nice little café, but it’s little –
that’s its main weakness. The décor is another one – very nice but starting to
look dated. Surf Sprays strengths are its great staff and the service they
provide, the excellent coffee and of course the cakes.’
Nico seemed to want to say something, but she raised a finger and shook her
‘So what I’m considering is enlarging the building slightly. Getting a landscape
gardener to make the back yard look lovely and putting tables and chairs out
there. And that old kitchen will have to go. It’s too small anyway. In the new
building there’ll be room for a modern, state-of-the art kitchen and Nico, I hope
you will want to stay on and work in it.’
Kate winked at Nico, who realised that a smile was taking over his face. Kate
was smiling too. And so was Marama.
‘Of course,’ said Marama, bringing everyone down to earth, ‘none of this is
going to happen right away, and some parts aren’t going to be easy. Just
thinking about the new design is going to be a challenge, and no doubt there’ll
be a lot of inconvenience. If I go ahead with this, we may even need to close
for a while. But I will try to remember to keep you in the loop as things develop.’
© The Open Polytechnic of New Zealand 6
Complete this assignment using a paragraph format with headings for each
section. This means that all concepts, ideas and thoughts must be explained in
full sentences.
All questions require you to use and APA reference relevant course readings.
Make sure you review your assignment before you submit it for marking.
Complete all parts of the sections below.
Section 1: Theories of communication
a) Interaction Theory (300-400 words)
Using the interaction theory of communication, explain the various
parts of the model (sender, receiver, channel, noise, and so on) with
regard to communication involving staff at the Surf Spray Café.
(12 marks)
b) Organisational Culture Theory (300-400 words)
i) Give examples of three types of stories found at or relating to Surf
Spray Café
(3 marks)
ii) Define the story types.
(3 marks)
iii) Explain how the stories from the case study match them.
(3 marks)
c) Organisational Culture Theory (300-400 words)
Using Foreman’s framework to inform your discussion, choose one of
the stories from (ii) and explain why its audience, or you as the reader,
would or would not consider it authentic
(7 marks)
d) Dramaturgical Theory (300-400 words)
i) Define the terms ‘frontstage’ and ‘backstage’
(6 marks)
ii) Explain how they apply to Nico’s interactions in the case study
(6 marks)
© The Open Polytechnic of New Zealand 7
Section 2: The self
a) Does Marama have a ‘blind self’? Discuss with reference to the Johari
window, and provide evidence of her self-awareness (150-250 words).
(7 marks)
b) On the basis of evidence from the case study, explain two strategies
that Nico can use to maintain positive self-esteem as changes are
made at the café (150-250 words).
(6 marks)
Section 3: Perception
Nico and Kate are still forming impressions about Marama, their new manager.
Describe and explain three strategies that they can use to verify that their
impressions are accurate (200-300 words)
(12 marks)
Section 4: Intercultural communication
a) Define power distance and discuss its role at Surf Spray Café (150-200
(7 marks)
b) Define high and low context cultures (150-250 words).
(3 marks)
c) identify and explain examples of both in the case study (150-200
(4 marks)
Section 5: Nonverbal communication
a) Identify three examples, of different types, of nonverbal communication
in the case study (100-150 words).
(6 marks)
b) Define the terms used to describe these examples, using course
readings (300-400 words).
(6 marks)
c) Explain the significance of each example in relation to the case study
(300-400 words).
(9 marks)

Sample Solution