Elements of an ideal cafe

A am sitting at a café working and thinking of the ideals of a social yet commercial working place away from home. Le Procope created a meeting place and exchange of ideas for great minds such as Voltaire, Rousseau, Diderot, and Hugo. Is it possible to create an intellectual center for geeks to match the historical cafés of the Middle East, Paris, and London? What are the essential ingredients to creating a meeting place for geeks and a birthplace of ideas and companies?

Historical coffeehouses contained small libraries, bulletin boards, and self-publishing. We now use the Internet, blogs, and cell phones to remain connected to the ideas and happenings in the world. We also have a need for startup business services to create new and revolutionary ideas. Below is my short list of ideas on an ideal sppace of work and collaboration.

Physical nourishment

Any good café needs coffee, tea, snacking food, and desserts. Larger meals could be arranged with nearby businesses for delivery if not provided in-house.

It is possible to jump-start a business using a well-known name in coffee and tea and possibly even have them run the beverage side of things. It’s also important to have non-caffeinated beverages to bring in more evening visitors. Stocking items people cannot get at home helps people spend money on little treats and small premiums such as a cola from a small producer.

Keeping connected

Wireless Internet. Yes, an easy selection for an essential element. Wireless Internet allows café patrons to remain connected to the outside world and share their latest work. The network needs to be open, supported, and protected from abuse.

Digital bulletin boards. Community software could be used to display a list of frequent patrons, their publications, and problems in need of a solution. Information could be available at a glance to help the community of patrons connect.

Power connections. Ample power connections are needed to keep the tools of the trade running.

Membership privileges

Modern meeting places have been unable to successfully create revenue from patrons who stay for a long time but do not purchase many goods. Offering membership perks and upsells could be one way to keep the business running. What are some possible perks of membership?

Enhanced computing environment. Members could sit at tables with a large LCD screens and a full sized keyboard and mouse.

Private rooms. You could also offer a few private rooms for members or small teams. Rooms could be reserved in advance.

Business services. Want to receive your business mail at the café? It could be a premium option.

Group event space. Reserve an area of the café for your event or small group.

Food and drink specials. A frequent buyer program would work well for frequent patrons.

Limited commerce options

The café would be the hub of activity for emerging businesses and geeks. The café could offer select services such as home broadband signups, EVDO, cell phones, computers, music, and accessories. Coffee houses in London were the birthplace of auction houses Sotheby’s and Christie’s in spaces attached to the café.

Conclusion

Could it work and be profitable? Real estate in San Francisco is pretty expensive, but as a business and maybe even a mini-venture capital service such a place might turn a profit.

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10 comments

Commentary on "Elements of an ideal cafe":

  1. ryan king on wrote:

    Any good café needs coffee, tea, snacking food, and desserts.

    If you’re going to spend a long time there, you need more than snacks- you needs more substantial food there (or somewhere nearby).

  2. Dorrian on wrote:

    I think there is something there. Not VC backed though. Starbucks bills itself as the office for the mobile professional and I think your ideas related to geeking out are very interesting and differentiated. Funny, did you see this O’Reilly post today:

    http://radar.oreilly.com/archives/2005/10/playing_flickr.html

    Certainly seems like something that should be incorporated into your cafe on the social side.

  3. Tara 'Miss Rogue' Hunt on wrote:

    Great post Niall!

    I’m hoping your idea pops up in my new hood!

    I would love to have an updated version of the intellectual salons.

    Oh…but you would also need booze. I think Voltare and Rousseau et al even had the stronger stuff…;)

  4. Niall Kennedy on wrote:

    Rajiv,
    That place is pretty sweet. It looks a bit fancy and that cost is reflected in the price.

    I think there is a benefit to having the flow of people coming through, and an enviroment where you would not feel like striking up a conversation with a neighbor would interrupt the work of others. Next time I am in L.A. I will definitely have to check out theOffice.

  5. Brandon Cotter on wrote:

    Love it…would love to build one in Dallas. To me, ideally it would have some simple tiered system where you could take part in some basic services (wifi / desk / be social) but if you wanted more could pay.

    I would want to steer away from the nickel-and-dime models that most executive suites use, but you would need to get creative and figure out how make more than you spend.

    I also see a podcasting booth–something soundproof with a little better gear than you would buy for home use, but nothing too fancy. It would be nice though to not have the dog barking in the background of your latest rant/rave.

  6. Sarah Figueroa on wrote:

    Awesome insight. On that note, in addition to the local Starbucks – I’ve often found that a good coffee/book store (such as Borders) has been a great way to get my food and up-to-the minute reference materials. …Not to mention a great meeting place. There have been a few times when I had some handy materials ready to cite examples and make my point. =)

  7. John Kesler on wrote:

    I’ve been working on this exact concept. It’s called the moc acronym for the Mobile Office Community. We have a business plan and test marketed it very successfully. We are looking for more funding to push this out to bigger and better locations. I would love to share the executive summary with anyone willing to give some feed back. We have even figured a way to even include private meeting rooms with full services and fit it all into a 1500-2000 sq ft. Area. Not much larger than a regular café. If anyone wants to help us we need funding but we don’t want to take it to the VC community. Anyone know angel investors that would be interested in taking a look at the plan please let me know.

    John@themoc.com