Why restaurants are throwing their hat into the coworking ring

As the coworking trend continues to gather pace, restaurants and pubs in cities around the world are now formally opening up their space for startups and freelancers.

March 06, 2019

Cafes have long been a favourite makeshift work spot for freelancers and businesspeople in between meetings. Now, a growing number of restaurants are looking to build on that set-up by formally getting involved in the coworking scene.

Like traditional coworking spaces, restaurant workspaces are outfitted with the essentials – power outlets, high-speed internet, and bottomless tea and coffee.

At the Mamounia Lounge in London’s Mayfair, a restaurant whose ground floor is converted to coworking use from 11am to 6pm on weekdays, a membership comes with 40 percent off food and drinks, and a discount on private hire of the lounge.

 “Coworking has been occurring in the F&B sector for a long time on an informal basis,” says Adam Griffin, Director, Foodservice Consulting at JLL. “With the popularity of coworking continuing to rise, many restaurants are now looking at it as a new opportunity to activate space during morning and afternoon periods that would otherwise be sitting empty.

Getting down to business

While some restaurants are going it alone with advertising their space, others are signing up to services like KettleSpace, Spacemize and Spacious, which offer a network of restaurants open for daytime coworking.

Members are charged a monthly fee for access to all locations, typically between 8.30am and 5pm on weekdays when business tends to be slow – and restaurants not only create a new revenue stream but maintain a buzzy ambience, which can help attract customers.

Costs are generally lower than traditional coworking facilities although that is reflected in fewer facilities and restricted hours.

“Restaurant coworking is less functional than a traditional coworking space - lacking printing facilities and large meeting spaces”, Griffin says. “However, the restaurant’s brand or ambience can be a draw for small meetings or for solo workers looking for a more business-focused environment than they might find in a regular cafe.”

Model coworkers

Restaurants with coworking space to offer tend to be concentrated in prime city centre locations that are easily accessible, notes Griffin.

“This particular type of space, where there isn’t the option to expand to accommodate larger teams for example, caters for a niche audience of freelancers and startups,” he says. “A lot of demand for casual desk space in the city centre is already being swept up by coffee providers and other all-day venues, which people can use on informal basis.”

Restaurant-based workspaces are also likely to suit those who don’t regularly require a central desk space, as well as visitors from out of town. East London gastropub Martello Hall, for example, has daily and weekly rates, while Workspott, which provides coworking space at two London restaurants, offers a light-use membership with four days of access per month at about a third of its standard membership rate.

Part of a bigger strategy

While working in an eatery can come with added distractions, such as the noise of diners chatting or people frequently moving around, the benefits of leveraging underutilised space have led restaurants to tackle such challenges to productivity.

KettleSpace venues play music designed to facilitate working, while Scottish craft brewery and pub chain Brewdog, which recently introduced hot-desking at three of its London pubs, sets aside a dedicated area with power outlets, a printer and stationary.

Casual dining chains could also benefit. “For mass market restaurants – such as Pizza Express or Bill’s – coworking is an opportunity that would fit their brand, as such restaurants already operate initiatives like off-peak offers to incentivise people to use their space,” says Griffin. “These brands also have many outlets, which would allow them to offer membership in line with traditional coworking providers.” 

Yet not all dining spaces can easily implement a work-friendly environment. For example, evening destinations are more likely to be fitted with dimmer lighting and furniture or design that is less conducive to work.

With competition among coworking spaces heating up – a growing number of hotels are joining the mix alongside full-service coworking offices – restaurants will only take a very small share of the overall market, Griffin believes. Nevertheless, demand for quality alternative workspace is growing.

“It is a sign of the popularity of coworking in general, that F&B venues are looking to activate their space in this way,” he concludes. “While this type of coworking is unlikely to become the next big thing, I think demand will increase and restaurants could certainly make it part of their long-term strategy to get more value out of their space.”

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