Cafés and other places to eat, drink and socialise have long been an essential component of a museum’s visitor experience and organisational DNA. For many, they also provide an essential income stream to support greater commercial resilience and reduce dependence on funding.
That was until early 2020. The arrival of COVID-19 has had a catastrophic impact on the hospitality sector. But there have also been significant behavioural shifts because of the pandemic offering venues the perfect opportunity to reposition, realign and benefit.
The Behavioural Shift
Increased home and remote working is here to stay. Of course people are returning to offices and other workplaces but it is unlikely to be the same as pre COVID-19 levels. If the pandemic has provided any silver lining, for many it has been the realisation of the need to readjust work life balance. Remote working is nothing new, but the significant increase in it is, and many cafés, particularly on the high street, do not have the space and are not configured to accommodate this growing and attractive market, while still meeting their commercial obligations. Combine that with organisations now looking at reduced office spaces and increased remote working and you have the perfect recipe for new opportunities.
The Cultural Café Revolution
There can be no time in modern history like this, with so many people finally being able to once again appreciate being in the presence of family, friends and colleagues. While the vaccine has brought about that it is also apparent that the way we work and meet for work purposes will remain different and most likely more remote, particularly for those many roles that don’t require people to be in specific locations.
For many, the choice to return to a more structured environment and defined place of work is unlikely to be an option.
New agile integrated work and social spaces have been springing up for some time before COVID-19 – coffee exchange lounges on business parks and club collectives providing co-working spaces for smaller organisations and individuals. Some of these have also integrated complementary and paid for activities and events including business talks as well as social and ‘play’ activities.
Now consider that further for a moment!
Museums, galleries, art centres, historic properties and all manner of cultural, heritage and leisure venues up and down the country already do those things and much more, and a significant number already have cafes or other places to eat and drink as well as often other under-utilised spaces. Surely this has to be the time for the cultural café – a unique cultural place to meet, work, socialise, participate, learn and of course, eat and drink!
Curated Café Spaces
As food and drink specialists, Montfort Catering Consultants have long supported organisations with the creation of curated café spaces – food and drink destinations integrated within the fabric of the organisation, while also contributing to the venue’s commercial resilience. We have found that most eating and drinking spaces within arts organisations benefit from close alignment to the wider artistic and educational programme, making them less of a passive extension to the organisation. The same is also relevant when appealing to alternative markets.
While many cafés often naturally lend themselves to informal locations for solo working and informal meetings, many strategic and operational considerations will need to be determined if such spaces are to be culturally sympathetic, commercially sustainable and successful. Some things to think about:
- Practicalities like having enough power sockets for laptops, phones and tablets as well as adequate free wifi
- Seating style and configuration to suit different party sizes while not overly reducing your occupancy potential
- A relevant food and drink offer, likely to include an all-day snacking menu
- An appropriate style of service to accommodate people that may not want to leave their seat and belongings but may want to buy another coffee or stay for lunch
- How the artistic and educational programme could be developed to integrate new business audiences, which may include relevant social, business, training and networking events
- The best approach to accommodate people wanting a space to stay and work for longer periods of time, which could include an alternative time based charging model or membership option with complimentary hospitality?
- How to extend and encourage your new audience into more leisure and cultural activities
- Consideration as to how to integrate the unique element that your organisation does well and is known for
It is these and many other aspects that will support in creating a truly unique integrated destination for eating, drinking, participation, cultural enrichment, self development and working, relevant to both existing audiences as well as appealing to new remote workers and businesses.
How do I join the Cultural Café Revolution?
The starting point for many will depend where your organisation is currently on the journey but a good initial basis would be to consider Who, What, Where, How.
Who are your potential new café audiences? Are there local organisations and associations that could be engaged with? Do research and find out about them.
What are their needs and how does this translate to an integrated food, drink and broader offer?
Where are the spaces and locations that you can develop or reuse?
How will you balance the opportunities with the programme as well as the commercial requirements and the business plan?
We believe this is the time for the cultural café revolution – an opportunity for venues to provide enriched spaces and events to meet, work, socialise, unwind, participate, learn and of course, eat and drink!
Do get in touch with Montfort Catering Consultants for an informal chat if you would like to explore opportunities further and discuss how we could support you.