Distilled NY

Distilled NY

As work evolves beyond the cubicle, coworking spaces for telecommuting and independent workers are popping up all over the world. And resastaurants that are otherwise closed during the day have the potential to cash in on demand for coworking space.

Platforms including Spacious, Flexday and Kettlespace make off-hours restaurants available to workers seeking an alternative to coffee shops, home offices or more traditional coworking spaces (which tend to carry higher prices for the worker than a restaurant).  

Restaurant Insider talked to three restaurants on three different platforms to find out how it works. 

Spacious – Saxon + Parole in New York City

Spacious launched in New York City in the summer of 2016. As of this writing, it had nearly a dozen restaurants in New York City and five in San Francisco on its platform. Members get access to all locations for $99 to $129 per month depending on whether they make a monthly, quarterly or annual commitment.

Saxon + Parole. Photo Credit: Melissa Hom
Saxon + Parole. Photo Credit: Melissa Hom

Saxon + Parole, an upscale American restaurant in New York’s NoHo neighborhood, was among the first restaurants to join Spacious. Brad Farmerie, partner and executive chef at Saxon + Parole, says it was a no-brainer. “We thought it’s not an expensive experiment to make,” he explains. “We’re not sacrificing anything.”

Saxon + Parole gets paid per Spacious member who uses the space, and Farmerie says it requires very little money or involvement from the restaurant because Spacious handles logistics. “They come in and they bump up your WiFi so you can have a super powerful WiFi,” he says. “They run electrical cords through the space.”

One unexpected benefit has been saving on staffing. “We used to hire two people during the day to answer the phone and accept deliveries,” Farmerie says. Now Spacious hosts do what used to require Saxon + Parole employees during the day. “They become really great ambassadors for our brand and what we do,” Farmerie adds. “We like to bring them in for drinks and extend our family into the Spacious family.”

 

However, while Farmerie had anticipated that Spacious members might stay for drinks, that hasn’t happened very often, even when offering half off their first drink. “It seems like if they’ve been sitting in the space for eight hours, they’re not completely excited about sticking around,” he says. “Occasionally we’ll get a few people dropping by for drinks.”

Still, Farmerie says it’s been a positive experience overall. “As a restaurant, we love it,” Farmerie says. “It populates and occupies a space that we took a lot of time and energy to design. It’s such an easy idea to execute for them.

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Flexday – Marben in Toronto, Canada

Distilled NY
Distilled NY

Canadian startup Flexday launched in downtown Toronto last fall, and Marben was among the first restaurants to join. It was also the site of Flexday’s launch party last October. Flexday members pay $49 per month for seven days per month, or $95 per month for unlimited days.

“The exposure alone is enough to warrant their presence,” says Marben general manager Zoran White. “We’ve seen an increase in the number of people that know about us.” Marben’s downtown location near what White calls “the Madison Avenue of Toronto” makes it an attractive spot for providing overflow meeting space or job interviews.

The space also attracts freelance journalists, artists, graphic designers and independent entrepreneurs. White estimates that he might see 20 to 30 workers on a typical day. For those without a traditional office, “it’s better than working at home,” says White. “It’s better than working at a coffee shop where you have to buy something to feel welcome. Flexday’s got free coffee partnered with a local roaster. Their own WiFi is set up over top of ours. They set up power outlets at every table. It’s low interference with what we do.”

White says Marben’s participation in Flexday has also inspired the restaurant to launch a grab-and-go lunch program that will be available on weekdays to Flexday members and the general public. “It’s being able to capitalize on the market that was already in our doors,” White adds.

Distilled NY
Distilled NY

KettleSpace – Distilled NY in New York City
Launched in New York City last fall, KettleSpace has six restaurants participating, including Distilled NY, which is also owned by KettleSpace cofounder Nick Iovacchini. Members pay $25, $49 or $99 per month depending on the amount of access they want.

Iovacchini says lunch service didn’t make sense for his restaurant, in part because the check sizes are much smaller than dinner, and fewer people order alcohol. “We’re always looking for ways to monetize our assets differently,” he explains. “We all need to think more like entrepreneurs, more so than purely restaurateurs.”

Responsibilities are split between restaurant staff and KettleSpace staff. “It’s minimal amounts of things like making coffee and opening the door, making sure the space is clean,” Iovacchini says. “The majority of things we would need to do anyway, but cumulatively, it’s about 30 minutes throughout the course of the day.”

Iovacchini estimates that the restaurant might get 40 to 50 coworkers on a typical day. “Fridays tend to be a little slower,” he adds. “People are working from home or traveling.”

Distilled NY
Distilled NY

When asked about wear and tear on the space, Iovacchini quips that “coworkers in KettleSpace are much kinder to our space than people we’ve had on a Friday night.”

Traditionally, profit margins for restaurants have been razor thin, but Iovacchini says unlocking this new revenue stream through KettleSpace has been more profitable. “Unlike the typical margin in the restaurant world where we’re lucky if we get single digits to the bottom line, fees that we get through our KettleSpace partnership are going straight to the bottom line,” he explains.

On top of fees from KettleSpace, Distilled also sells some food and beverages to members, including some happy hour specials. “Our bar opens at 4 o’clock and it’s nice to have some folks who are already in the space buying snacks, appetizers or dinners,” Iovacchini says. “Every time new folks walk into your business, that’s a good thing.”

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Austin, Texas-based freelancer Susan Johnston Taylor has written about food and business for publications including The Boston Globe, Civil Eats, Entrepreneur, FastCompany.com, Fresh Cup, and Pizza Today. She'd eat goat cheese on almost anything.