the coffee house, office of the future

over lunch, i had a conversation on the demise of good coffee houses in cambridge. it increasingly seems that if you don’t like your coffee polluted with “flavors” or burnt and served in a plastic cup, and like to have a nice couch to sit on, your options are dwindling. herewith my concept for a renaissance of the coffee house, ca. 2006.

coffee houses have traditionally been an important center for thought and the arts, as well as commerce. For instance, the Cafe Odeon in my hometown Zurich saw Mata Hari dancing, Lenin and Trotsky plotting and the DaDa art movement was born there. Lloyd’s coffee house in London spawned Lloyd’s of London, the first insurance company in the world.

these days, you see people camped out with their laptops, using the free wifi, and consuming far too little to make them welcome and profitable customers. coffee houses need to stop fighting this trend, and embrace it. why not rent out space on their premise, and encourage people to make the coffee house their office? like many who telecommute, i’d be happy to move my virtual office to a nice cafe with comfy chairs, a guaranteed spot, and an ‘all you can eat/drink’ policy. i (or my company) would be willing to pay $300-$400 a month for the privilege.

recurring, predictable revenue stream

subscription-based business models are attractive for their recurring, predictable revenue streams. you’ll notice half-assed efforts at your local cafe to sell gift cards and loyalty programs, or more sophisticated ones like this breakfast club noticed by seth godin. renting out space to telecommuters would be an extension of these ideas.

it’s just like at google hq

most articles about google include the obligatory reference to it’s famous cafeteria. wouldn’t it be great if all the great food you’d want in a typical work day was only a wave to the waiter away? sure beats the food court or the vending machine at your officeplex. should be quite feasible too, as demonstrated by the obscene profit margin on coffee and your local indian place.

it rides on some of the biggest economic trends

wasting 2h a day in traffic to finally arrive at a crappy office plex is on the way out. rising oil prices, the desire of companies to put their capital to better use than sinking it into cubicles and the increasing virtualization of work all lead to an ever growing percentage of workers who can work from anywhere, anytime. if this cuts down on meetings, the bane of productivity, even better. i for one would not mind to hang out with my friends while we all work for our respective entities (or collaborate on the fly, just like those old geezers at lloyd’s did)

so where is the entrepreneur who can make this happen? would you, dear reader, make use of such a facility if it were offered?

4 thoughts on “the coffee house, office of the future”

  1. Gregor (and anybody else who’d like to have such a place near MIT),
    This is a interesting idea. How about equipping 28 Elm with an expresso machine, plush chairs for use with laptops in addition to the existing dinner table and desk? Open 10AM to 12pm, it would feature karaoke and movie evenings. And a fast dualscreen desktop “command center” in the kitchen. Monthly membership would include unlimited coffee, milk, cereal, juice and nuts.
    $300-$400 seems like a reasonable membership rate. If this turns out to look economically viable, I’ll partner or give you a $20,000 line of credit at 11% to start it.

  2. I will visit your café if ever you organize it!
    I had similar ideas, where you have personnel pools hanging out at such coffee houses, where customers could drop in and recruit task forces.
    The best place to work in Zurich in my opinion is the Sphère. Though it is a bar, book store and theatre in one, it is perfect for working.
    If I want to work at public places but still need it to be perfectly quiet, I prefer libraries like the Bibliothèque nationale de France in Paris or the central library in Zurich!
    Best regards from the other end of the Disc!

  3. I’d be curious enough to try this place out assuming that it existed.
    The problem, though, with 20 interesting people sitting nearby is that you’d never get any work done.

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