THIS may seem an odd thing for a food writer to say but the number of coffee shops and eateries opening virtually every day in our towns and cities is causing me some disquiet.

Of course it’s great if it’s a sign that we’ve become a good-food nation in search of all the right things (fresh, ethical, local, seasonal and so on) but the cause and effect of this modern phenomenon is something I can’t quite get my head around.

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It seems to me that cafe society, a phrase coined last century to describe the new phenomenon of beautiful (that is, wealthy) people who did their entertaining semi-publicly, has gone mad.

The habit of eating and drinking with friends in public, rather than at home, during daylight hours, is so ubiquitous that we’re circulating in a caffeine-infused monoculture that’s spreading by the day. Blame for the unseemly public consumption of sugary, fatty, yeasty confections must be directed at the Great British Bake Off for further validating what was once regarded a guilty secret performed behind closed doors.

Banks, bookshops, computer repair shops, grocery shops, hairdressing salons, hardware stores and garages are giving up their former utility to make way for modern temples of indulgence (and in some cases, over-indulgence). In towns and cities across the country, virtually every second shop unit has become somewhere to spend money on coffee and cake, albeit of the single-estate Fairtrade variety and the ethically sourced, lactose-tolerant, gluten-free homemade sort.

Everyone wants a slice of the action. Within just a few steps of my home in Glasgow’s west end there’s a choice of at least 16 independently run cafes, with another one about to open where once there was a car-parts shop. And that’s not counting the local high street, where rates and rents are sky-high and the wealthy London-based chains are moving in to displace the established independents. They, in turn, are bagging alternative locations further afield, no doubt with a realistic eye on the future. What choice do they have, when even the upmarket supermarket at the top of the road also has a cafe?

The irony is that, every time a new place opens, it’s packed from day one. It seems the customer base is there. It’s difficult otherwise to see how so many business plans and loans could be approved, grant applications processed and trading licences granted.

They may feature uber-hip exposed stone, vast shop windows, cool lighting and reclaimed furniture but their aesthetic appeal and the (mostly) top quality of their offer can’t mask an increasing unease on behalf of the passionate, committed and talented people behind them.

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The market must surely be reaching saturation point. Already we’re seeing a kind of petrification in the face of so much choice, with many consumers undertaking a knee-jerk reaction of sticking with the same venue.

The logical extension of this natural self-regulation is that some will fall between two stools, as it were. The question is who will be the winners and who will lose out in an increasingly competitive market.

Only time will tell if we can all continue to have our cake and eat it.