Coughing up at coffee shops

Coffee shop or office?

One of the dangers of having rabbits as pets is that they like to chew cables. When one of my children’s furry friends wandered into my office at the end of the garden he immediately sunk his impressive teeth into the cable of my router. This took out the broadband connection and life came to a standstill in the Davis household.

The solution was to decamp to a local coffee bar at a prompt 8:30am the next morning. It was a warm welcome from the owner as I plugged in my laptop, covered the table with various work-related papers and ordered a coffee. But three hours in – having had various hot drinks I was slightly uncomfortable about whether I’d overstayed my welcome and spent sufficient money.

With a modest sense of unease I made the move over the road at noon when the local pub opened its doors. A couple of cups of tea, a coffee, and a spot of lunch seemed like a fair exchange for me taking up space for the next five hours – although it was a quiet trading day so they were hardly packed out. I also switched onto beer when the clock struck five, which the coffee could not have offered.

Beer and work: a potent mix

In a world where food and drink venues offer free Wi-Fi and increasing numbers of people no longer work in offices my transient situation on this particular day was hardly unusual. Issues arise when places are mobbed throughout the day with mobile workers spending very little money, which surely puts a strain on these businesses revenues.

On a recent trip to New York I found it impossible to enter most half decent-looking Manhattan coffee shops and find a seat, which led me to wander the streets until I could eventually enjoy a seated coffee and read my book. Needless to say I was the only person in the venue not glued to a laptop or engaged in a work meeting.

This was also the case in my hotel’s lobby where from about 8:30am every morning all the tables seemed to be operating as office space. The hotel absolutely lost custom from me having to go elsewhere for some of my F&B requirements. It is clear that unless an establishment is proactive about ensuring these ‘working’ customers continue to purchase goods throughout their stay then valuable business will be lost.

At the Coffeesmiths Collective – which runs various coffee chains including the Department of Coffee and Social Affairs – there is an effort to prompt customers to re-order by approaching them at their tables. This is sensible as the model involves high traffic and low value transactions. What is required is well trained employees skillfully prompting these ongoing sales. To further leverage its space Coffeesmiths sometimes rents out basement space for work meetings at very competitive rates, which generates further revenues while also freeing up its key ground floor trading space.

A basement at the Department of Coffee


I saw this type of proactive service in action when on a business trip to Rome. I pitched up at an old school café that comprised little more than four booths. Mid-morning it was easy for me to grab one of them, order a coffee and do a bit of work. Ninety minutes later and only one espresso purchased the waitress came over to me and asked: “You are going to have some lunch aren’t you?” I wasn’t going to argue as I knew I would be depriving her of lunchtime trade if I hogged the seat over this crucial part of the day. A tasty sandwich and another coffee later and I was then off. We were both ultimately happy with our transaction.

Yes, this does all sound ridiculously obvious but I question whether many food and drink venues – especially the coffee purveyors – are really managing this process as effectively as they could be. I’ve been in far too many places that have been packed to the rafters but where there has been very little in the way of food and drink on the tables. In these tough times this seems such an obvious, and straightforward, discipline to introduce.

Glynn Davis, editor of Retail Insider

This piece was originally published on Propel Info where Glynn Davis writes a regular Friday opinion piece. Retail Insider would like to thank Propel for allowing the reproduction of this column.