In case you haven’t heard the news yet, there are a lot of freelancers and remote workers out there. In fact, there are more people working in non-traditional jobs than ever before.
Where do those people do all that work?
Some do it in their cars, like Uber and Lyft drivers. Some do it on runways and in studios, like fashion models. And some do it in tattoo shops, beauty parlors, and nail salons.
But most of us just do it from home.
Still, we all have to get out of the house sometimes. Coworking spaces are nice, but most of us aren’t going to shell out hundreds of dollars per month for a seat when we have a kitchen table. Instead, we look to local coffee shops and cafes for a quiet place to spread out, have a coffee and a snack, and churn out our goods.
Casual cafes, bistros, and coffee shops should be doing everything they can to position themselves as a workplace option for freelance and remote workers.
I’m going to explain why, and how you can do it.
Why Focus on Freelancers and Remote Workers?
For starters, a fifth of large companies report that 30% of their employees work remotely. And 34% of the national workforce do at least some freelance work.
And the gig economy is only trending up. A full 50% of organizations said they have increased their freelance workforce in the past five years. And the average weekly hours spent freelancing increased by 72 million between 2015 and 2019.
Where are those people working? 40% of freelancers report working in a coffee shop or cafe on a weekly basis. That’s a lot of coffee.
Beyond the numbers, also consider when freelancers and remote workers would be at your restaurant. Most freelancers keep standard “office hours,” meaning they work between 8:00 am and 6:00 pm. Their work hours = your slow hours.
By encouraging freelancers to work at your restaurant, you can increase sales during your slowest time of day without any pricey promotions or increased labor costs.
Now, how to do it?
Create a Work-Friendly Space
The first thing you’ll need to draw in the “work from anywhere” crowd is a work-friendly space. What does that mean?
First of all, make sure your wifi name and password are easy to spot. You could put this info on the menu or post it in a prominent place, like over the main POS at the bar or register. Whatever you choose, make sure it’s clear and legible. It’s amazing how many cafes make this info hard to find, or worse, don’t post it at all.
Next, how’s the vibe? People who are trying to work don’t want loud or distracting music. Ideally, music would be without lyrics. That doesn’t mean you have to play elevator music. There is instrumental music in just about every genre you can think of. Or you could play music with lyrics in a foreign language. As long as the words aren’t recognizable to most people, they won’t be a distraction and can still add to your ambiance.
What’s your table layout like? A lot of cafes and coffee shops only have small 2-top tables. If you have 8 2-tops, and each is occupied by one person and a laptop, you’re wasting a lot of real estate. Instead, consider adding one long communal work table or a narrow work counter. These spaces will allow individual workers to congregate without taking up all your small tables.
How’s your outlet situation? Rewiring and adding outlets is invasive and expensive. But computers don’t take a lot of juice, so you may be able to get more bang for your existing outlet buck with an outlet tap. Make sure your existing power supply will be enough to charge several devices at once before adding one of these.
This next one seems like a little thing, but it’s a personal peeve. Do you have hooks in your bathrooms and under the bar? People who come to your coffee shop or restaurant to work will have a laptop bag or backpack with them. Are they supposed to put their nice work bag on the floor?
Hooks, people. Hooks.
Once you have set up your space for max freelancer comfort, make sure you share the good news. Post pictures on your social media of people working the day away. Add a bit of text on your website to tell freelancers that there is plenty of space for them. You want to make the laptop crowd feel welcome. Some cafes aren’t as remote-worker-friendly as others, so make sure your customers know what side of the fence you sit on.
Turn Your Restaurant into a Coworking Space
Coworking has exploded in the past few years. Companies like Impact Hub and the scandal-laden WeWork have opened office spaces all over the world.
If you’re closed during the day or a couple of days per week, have you considered using the dining room as a restaurant coworking space? Here’s how it could be done at practically no cost to the restaurant.
Most restaurant managers have some sort of office work. Can the General Manager and the rest of the management team can take turns doing their office work from the restaurant during “coworking hours?” If the work is already part of their salaried job requirements, there will be no additional cost to you.
Charge an hourly, daily, or weekly rate for people to come in and work in your space. You provide wifi, free coffee, and maybe a few snacks. Since you aren’t paying for extra real estate or labor, you can undercut rates of the traditional coworking spaces and make a little extra income that will go straight to the bottom line.
Offer a Loyalty Program
We’re creatures of habit. Chances are the people who come to work at your coffee shop or cafe live nearby. Give them a financial incentive to make your spot their spot for working when they need to get out of the house.
Starbucks is the undisputed king mermaid of the loyalty app game. Their app is personalized and gamified. But to create something like that would take time and money that 99% of restaurants don’t have.
Instead, keep it simple. Many POS systems have rewards programs that are already integrated into the software. Or you can join a reward program already in progress. Turnkey loyalty programs are easy to set up with no coding or app development required. Look at options like FiveStars, Upserve, or Belly to find one that works for you.
There’s nothing to indicate that the freelancing economy is slowing down or going away anytime soon. Freelancers could represent as much as 50% of the workforce by 2027. So play the long game and start optimizing your space for them now. Then you can focus on other things in 2030, like how to keep our new robot overlords happy. Always adaptable!