Underused restaurants are the new affordable place to cowork.
There are two things you’ll never find in short supply in New York City: coffee and entrepreneurs.
But you can only nurse that coffee in the cafe for so long, and coworking spaces get pricey.
Now there’s a perfect middle ground: restaurant coworking.
Despite the proliferation of coworking spaces – Cushman & Wakefield predicts there will be close to 50,000 worldwide by 2018 and there are already 37 WeWork locations in NYC alone – not every entrepreneur wants to shell out hundreds of dollars a month for a seat at those proverbial tables.
And while Starbucks, Gregory’s, Coffee Bene (and the rest) already keep remote workers caffeinated, one isn’t always guaranteed a power seat (one with an outlet in reach or available) – or a seat at all, depending on the time of day.
Nor are many of these places particularly fond of people who treat them as if they were their offices, working, taking meetings and displacing other paying customers.
This seems like a strange problem in New York, one of the food capitals of the world, where many thousands of seats go unfilled during the day, either because they’re only open for dinner, or because lunchtime traffic tends to be spotty at best.
This is why a new kind of coworking is taking hold, and why it’s proving to be a win-win-win for all parties.
Restaurant seats are now being utilised during off-hours, generating income for the restaurant owners while giving entrepreneurs et al an affordable coworking alternative. The founders of these platforms also take their cut.
Currently, there are three restaurant coworking startups in New York: Spacious, with eight locations and soon to be expanding to Los Angeles, San Francisco and London; WorkEatPlay, which is utilising higher end restaurants and seem to be positioning themselves as the more upscale Neue House of this category; and KettleSpace, which opened its first spot in the fall and is expanding into two more this month.
No one knows the pain points that restaurateurs go through better than KettleSpace co-founder Nick Iovacchini, who also co-founded the Distilled NY gastropub in TriBeCa – the startup’s first location.
“Between regulations, and rent and labour increases, restaurants all over the city are closing. Many are converting into bars,” said Iovacchini.
“It’s never been harder to stay in business and generate a profit.”
“Restaurateurs have been looking for creative ways to energise their businesses, and they have to think like entrepreneurs, not traditional restaurateurs. This is a new frontier for restaurants: we give them another revenue stream and allow them to extend the value of their assets previously not possible. It’s an out-of-the-box opportunity.”
The startup costs are also considerably lower than they are with a traditional coworking space: converting a restaurant into a coworking space removes 98% of the costs and hiccups involved.
“Building out a traditional coworking space costs between $200-$250 a foot,” said Dan Rosenzweig, another KettleSpace co-founder and former real estate associate at WeWork (Rosenweig underwrote 4.5m sq ft of potential WeWork locations in 35 cities, across six continents, according to his LinkedIn profile, and reported directly to founder Adam Neumann).
“With restaurants, it costs less than $2 a foot to upgrade the wifi and make sure that there’s a usable plug at each seat.”
Gone is the usual cookie-cutter construct of traditional coworking spaces, and the considerable savings are passed on to members. A hot desk at WeWork is $450 a month, while monthly memberships at Spacious and KettleSpace are $95 and $49 a month, respectively.
Both operate during regular business hour and offer day rates, plus they all give their members free coffee as well.
Even better, it’s not just the usual assortment of local entrepreneurs, remote workers, artists, copywriters, marketers, digital creative types, developers and ex-bankers who are finding their way to these spaces.
Business travellers from around the country and internationally have also happily taken a seat at the ever-expanding number of tables around town.
The coworkers can even stay for happy hour once the restaurants officially open for business, when they are usually able to take advantage of additional member discounts. Cheers to that!
These spaces offer all the amenities of traditional open desk coworking spaces: from free wifi, events and event spaces, to conference rooms, community managers, plus your choice of locations, lower membership fees, immediate membership approval – and no more dirty looks from coffee shop and café managers who are usually less than thrilled when the usual suspects monopolise their tables for a considerable part of the day for the price of a cup of coffee or two.
Considering that there’s also that bottomless cup of coffee that always draws the coworking crowds like flies, these new coworking restaurateurs seemed to have hit it right on the bean.
Bonnie Halper has been on the tech scene since ’94 – as an entrepreneur, recruiter, reporter and all-round industry expert. She founded New York’s StartupOneStop in 2009, was the founding Editor in Chief of AlleyWatch and is co-founder of Ladies Who Lead.
Keep up with her quick-witted insights from NYC.