Will pay-per-minute cafés work?

A café in the UK is shaking up how things are done by charging customers three pence for every minute they spend there.

The business, Ziferblat, stems from Russia, and has recently opened in London’s busy Old Street, The Guardian reports.

Everything in the café is free, including coffee, biscuits, fruit and vegetables, but customers are clocked and pay for the time they spend there. They are given a big vintage-style clock to put on their table, so they can monitor the minutes that tick by. 

The Ziferblat website said: “Ziferblat is a place where everyone can feel at home. Here you are free to be yourself; you can work, do some art, read a book, play piano, get acquainted with good people, attend events, drink as much tea or coffee as you want — in other words, do whatever you like as long as you respect the space and the other people in it.”

While the food offer is not akin to a normal café, the concept of paying for café tackles a key problem faced by café owners – how to maximise profit from every seat.

Restaurant and Catering Association of Australia chief executive John Hart says the model is a “novelty” idea, but it highlights the relationship between cost of operation and the time that customers spend in a café space.

“It is a gimmick… but it does underscore the cost to the café of a customer taking up a seat for a long time,” he says.

“It is a reasonable thing to highlight.”

Hart says that Australian café owners put up with customers spending all day in their cafés, but just buying one coffee.

“It is a fundamental issue…café owners need to make maximum return from every seat in the business,” he says.

He says this problem is one of the reasons why the Starbucks chain did not work in Australia, as the cost of wages here are too high to justify people buying one coffee and sitting in the space all day using their Wi-Fi.

“I don’t think it (pay-per-minute) is a model that will take off in Australia, but it is an interesting gimmick,” he says.

“Good on them for being innovative and creative, that is what we need.”

Cook Republic food blogger Sneh Roy told SmartCompany that the idea of a café should be relaxing with coffee and friends, not about watching the clock.

Roy thinks that a model like this could only work in really busy areas with people coming in and out regularly, rather than in suburban spaces.

“The idea of a clock might put people off,” she says. “I would be thinking, ‘I probably shouldn’t stay too long’… The clock is sure to put some people on edge.”

Roy says it is one of many trends café owners are trying in order to set their business apart, including one café in Sydney which had a “pay with a kiss day” where it gave out free coffees if couples kissed in the café.

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