Sorry, Power-Lunchers. This Restaurant Is a Co-Working Space Now.

Everything, it seems, is a shared office these days, including upscale dining rooms before they open for the evening. A start-up called Spacious is driving the trend.

Comments: 55

  1. Likely to be some unintended consequences and/or not- thought-out issues....

    In hyper-gentrifying areas in NYC, the ability to utilize restaurant space for drop-in workers gives restaurants an advantage over any local/independent retail shops and businesses or shops which are grappling with high rent and ecommerce. Some restaurants also benefit from "free" sidewalk space for outdoor restaurant seating.

    So is that the future in hyper-gentrifying neighborhoods? Restaurants get to double functionality - while local retail cannot and thus continue to whither?

  2. I'm not sure I see the correlation here. These restaurants are either closed for lunch or doing so little business then, it makes no sense to stay open. Thus, they open their space up to another company to do business in it.

    Local/indie retail shops could in theory make the same decision; it just wouldn't make financial sense for them, I suspect. So how is this restaurants "getting" an advantage that's not available to others? It's just a different business model.

  3. Most restaurants are local businesses, and if they are open to this business model, they might also be struggling in the neighborhood. We're not talking about co-working at Olive Garden.

  4. Your comment is thoughtful. But as a retailer who used to work in restaurants:
    1. A restaurant frequently only makes sales for four hours a day (5:30-9:30)
    2. Retailers can and do use the sidewalk space for product display if they wish.
    3. A retailer could also use their space before or after hours for secondary income (e.g. as an event space).
    The zoning legal issues you raise are addressed in the article.

  5. Great idea! I would love to see more spaces have dual identities. Already, churches are weektime schools or daycare. My biggest complaint is the underutilization of schools in evenings, and during weekends and summers. Keep coming with new ideas!

  6. How does this work out in restaurants that are, whether by design or accident, high noise locations in desperate need of some sound deadening?

  7. Anything that gets them out of coffee shops and cafes is great. I'd like to get a table at a Starbucks once in a while instead of the same guy who sets up his office there each day.

  8. No doubt writing the next Great American Novel.

  9. I do college interviews. We’re required to conduct the interview in a public space like a coffee shop. I regret disrupting other patrons who come to read or talk with friends or business contacts. I don’t regret disturbing someone who stays all day to avoid paying for WiFi at home.

  10. who pays for electricity? can the fees received from Spacious really cover electricity and air conditioning/heat? wouldn't it be cheaper for the restaurant to keep the lights and air conditioning off?

  11. Hawaii here checking in. Co-work is definitely the shape of the workplace future, how about a follow up from the investors, owners, managers of traditional commercial real estate. Here on Maui AirB&B has been a major disruptive force in the tourism economy and a nightmare for local zoning enforcement. Can we expect these "drop in offices" (everyplace is everything to everyone) to disrupt the market for office rentals in the same way? I'd like to see the cash flow projections on some of these ventures.

  12. If using restaurants for co-working space disrupts the office space market in San Francisco, this might lead to a good thing, converting offices to a higher and better use. Housing.

  13. I think that what is happening (perhaps-maybe in urban areas all over the world) is a redefinition of "office" and, indeed, "going-to-work."

    The social, economic and space-use patterns that came out of the 20th century originated in the 19th. Maybe someone in the early 22nd century will notice that a really big change started in the early 21st.

  14. Wow. The number of negative Nellies responding is astounding. There is no issue whatsoever with restaurants using their spaces in this way. As to those who ask about the economics, the cost to the restaurant is de minimis. Each location makes some money for space that would otherwise go unused.

    My concern about the article is that seems like an advertisement for Spacious. There are several other companies doing the exact same thing, including Kettlespace, that offer better deals and have been around at least as long. Why were they not examined and their founders not interviewed too?

  15. What is wrong with going home to work? Is this because people can’t afford to live in very expensive cities, where the work is to be found? I’m not sure I understand why these workers need to take up space at restaurants and cafés, when they clearly live somewhere?? Why should the restaurants have to pony up for electricity, WiFi and the like? And then there is the plain fact that they need to have staff present to keep an eye on things. I work next door to a small local café, where space is limited and we have several “workers” who literally run and jostle for table space, to take it up for hours at a time, scheduling and holding meetings, etc. while nursing a single cup of coffee for the entire time. I don’t get this new “sharing” economy.

  16. many of these people have 3 housemates, 1 or 2 of whom make a lot of noise at home.

  17. I'm a full-time remote worker who lives very far away from my company's office, and I do work from home most of the time. But I find it to be psychologically draining to spend all day every day at home, and there's something motivating about physically going into a separate space to do work, whether that's a traditional office, a cafe, a library, or a co-working space. I dislike working from cafes for the same reason as you--it feels intrusive to set up my computer and camp out there all day. Creative uses of sharing space like what is described in this article are a welcome relief to folks like me, and I'm more than happy to pay a reasonable fee to be able to get out of the house without getting in other peoples' way.

  18. I can't see this working with NYC's top restaurants. Part f the appeal of EMP or Gotham, for example, is the notion of exclusivity (along with world-class food). Distilled, which is near me, does this. Their food has always been mediocre, and I think less of the place, since learning they rent out to workers. I knowthat's not fair. I won't drop 40-50 dollars on a steak somewhere that does this. Again, I know that's a shallow feeling. Renting out space during the day makes it SEEM like the restaurant isn't good enough to make it on its cuisine. Imagine learning that Gotham does this. Would you want to drop 200 dollars at a restaurant that is an office during the day?

  19. Don't be a sucker for the fake flattery offered by expensive stuff and exclusive places. Those kind of people reek of insecurity, and it's sad bc they are probably very nice people.

    Most people don't need the fake flattery, so they don't care what Gotham does or doesn't do when they personally aren't there.
    I've never heard of Gotham, by the way, so I certainly won't think less of anyone who throws down $200 for a meal there after the-almighty Gotham rents itself out to office workers all day.

    You'll probably be shocked by this, but the best steak I've ever had in a restaurant--and I've had a lot-- was a ribeye at a crowded Saltgrass Steakhouse (mega-chain) in College Station, Texas that was jam-packed and featured little kids running around and shrieking/playing. Who knew? Super fun night and great food.

  20. Interesting concept, though I can't see it saving restaurants that are already on the brink of failure.

    The next places to apply the co-working concept could be churches (less than full 6 days/week, and not all church spaces are configured with pews); and schools (mostly closed in summer, usually available on weekends and holidays). Yes, there are zoning and non-profit issues to be addressed, but that is what lawyers and politicians are for.

    One must wonder whether the annual fee will be enough to keep marginal/undesirable users out of the spaces. For example, who will keep an eye out for drug dealers and hookers and those who simply want a warm/cool place to hang out during the day?

  21. yeah, can I just pay the $99/month and nap for six hours and bathe in the restrooms?

  22. I've used Spacious at the Milling Room on the Upper West Side. The vibe is great. The music is nice. Although I will say there is zero collaboration and mixing among users. Certain areas fill up very fast because you can stay in those areas until 5 or so. The least desirable areas you get kicked out at 3:30.
    I cannot imagine how anyone is making money on this business. I'm guessing there are 50 - 70 "regulars " . Let's say 70 at $99 per month equals $84k per year. They have to pay the restaurant something for heat/AC and lights Wi-Fi and I assume insurance - wear and tear on the bathrooms and coffee and waster . So let's say $3k per month. Then they appear to have a pretty competent person there checking us in each day, opening up, putting down power strips, answering questions about connecting on Wi-Fi and the rules, That person has to cost at least $35k. That leaves $13k per year. Plus you have to have someone hiring the staff at locations and scheduling and training them because there will be turnover. Someone to help raise money, find new sites, negotiate with restaurants, do social media, pr, get people paid. That leaves no money.
    AND- there is little barrier to entry for competitors as there dozens of other restaurants that could be converted to workspaces nearby.
    Ironically, the only way that this business lasts is to sell food (an idea that the original restaurant discarded as not viable or the space wouohave been available)

  23. ...gee, sell breakfast or lunch to a group of potential customers who are sitting in your restaurant from 8:00 to 5:00 every day. Lunch specials, perhaps?
    ........what a genius idea.
    I would bet the Spacious brain trust considered this approach to the restaurant owners and discarded it since people paying $99/month for their office space are not exactly spendthrifts.

  24. Which is why they don't make money! And probably will not as their niche market attracts more competitors

  25. I hope this might siphon some workers away from neighborhood cafes that have become like study halls with every table full of laptops for hours and often the annoyance of people Skyping next to one.

  26. It's hard to see how allowing squatters to take up all your table space without buying anything is good for business, the monthly fee (about the cost of a dinner for two) notwithstanding. I'm wondering how the governments of New York and Seattle will figure out a way to regulate this scheme. Somebody, somewhere, must be getting harmed.

  27. How timely! My wife and I both work full-time remotely, live nomadically, and are currently in need of a place to plug in this week while we stopped in San Francisco. I think we'll try this out! Coffee shops are cheap but we feel bad using up table space and disturbing patrons with our video meetings. WeWork is much too expensive, and not practical for travelers like us. This clever use of unused space feels right. Just last week we were approached in a coffee shop in Oakland by somebody handing out flyers for a startup called Hiven that runs co-work space sharing in private homes. I can't wait to see where this workspace revolution goes, and in the mean time I'm looking forward to trying Spacious!

  28. Greetings now from a Spacious-occupied restaurant in downtown SF. The place is very roomy and mostly empty, the wifi is great, and the coffee actually tastes quite good! I hope this is a sign of more places like this to come. I can't believe we just took BART to downtown SF and I'm now working in what feels like a fancy tech office for free (well, free for the first week).

  29. Good luck to businesses like this! I have always hated that so much space is wasted when a business is not open, especially because the empty space still draws on electricity (for lighting and AC or heat) and thus wastes the resources to produce that energy.

    It's great that they do this with restaurants, but how about all those office buildings that are packed from 9 to 5 but stand empty the rest of the day? If a public school can turn its gym into overnight housing for the homeless (as was reported a few weeks ago), how about the conference rooms and other large unused spaces in all those big buildings?

  30. a lot of finance people work at the office until midnight. many get to work by 7AM. it's rarely 9 to 5. it's more like 7AM to 11PM. then, overnight, the cleaning staff is at work.

  31. Most of the universities are busy in the evenings. There is just enough “empty time” when cleaning people can get the class rooms ready for the next day. Many of the labs are busy at night too.

  32. Very innovative.

    I do lack understanding of the appeal. The last place I would want to work all day, is in a busy public venue, to many distractions. The finance professional in me, would never pay for what is free at home.

  33. dating

  34. One can understand why neoliberal employers appreciate this adaptability by the precariate. Overhead expenses to provide value adding employees are reduced, if not eliminated; the cost of finding a workspace is paid by the employee; other overhead expenses like toiletries, utilities, space for refrigerators and microwaves are no longer borne by employers. Flop houses are the new offices, and perhaps delousing will also become a cost of the employed.

  35. I dunno, as a full-time remote employee of a Brooklyn-based tech company, the cost of a co-working space is much cheaper than the cost of living in NYC. A stronger remote-working culture means more folks can find great jobs without having to relocate to tech hub cities. I'm sure some companies love the idea of not having to pay for offices anymore, but even this rare move is much more of a win for the employees than the employer. See Automattic (the makers of Wordpress) for an example of a company who closed all their offices, went fully-remote, and has some of the happiest employees in the industry. They also pay for their employees' co-working space memberships, for what that's worth.

  36. I go to my favorite brewery in the morning, nobody there except a bartender and maybe a thirsty tourist, and work with an ocean view until noon.

  37. Maybe it should be called SPECIOUS, or is that a work techies don't understand given they create "bugs and features" at will.

  38. I like this concept. It aligns with the yearning inside all of us to be with others, not be bothered, but be surrounded by people. I know there are exceptions to this. For me, I like people and being around them. This concept sounds pretty cool!

  39. Hard to get a table at any of my local Starbucks. They look like dorms with people glued to computers and their belongings strewn about covering tables for four all day long.

    When they first moved to Boston, tables were round, conducive to conversing with friends over coffee. I go to Italian cafes in my neighborhood now—no free WiFi, people talking, cheering for soccer teams, writing in a journal even.

    In short, life as we used to know it.

  40. Another unstated virtue of this concept: the "5pm closing time" helps drive remote-workers to a more "normal" business day. The forced unplugging may contribute to work-life balance among a set that is typically out of balance. Stop being so boring, go have a life outside of work, and you can come back in the morning when the drop-in space reopens.

  41. This is a fantastic, brilliant idea. I wish *I* thought of it. I wish Spacious a lot of success. Will join myself.

  42. You just gotta have a gimic!

  43. The interesting issue is how many monthly memberships they sell/lease and % usage . ie. times per month.

    Guessing the monthly usage is modest. Maybe 10 to 15 days a month , and 4 hours each time, if that. A couple commentors have imputed numbers.

    If the restaurant/office gets 150 members then we are in the 16,000 range. Or 200k gross per yr. It starts to make sense.
    Restaurant gets 5 k a month.
    2 manager/ host salaries at 8 k (being optomistic)
    3 k margin for the licensor.

    Tough way to get rich for sure.
    Once you get 200 members it starts to make sense.
    Do they charge for coffee? Seems like another cash flow area.
    Interesting but doubtful it can spread too far.

  44. "Spacious is part of a broader debate over how to use spaces in cities" - How is a for-profit company part of public debate or broad debate in any sense?

  45. Honest question: What do Spacious users do if they frequently discuss confidential matters on the phone? Or are working on a sensitive project? Sitting in the middle of a restaurant putting my employer's business out there for everyone in the world blows my mind. I also work from home but on proprietary projects - proprietary not because they are important, but because my employer says so. I imagine many people (like product managers in competitive markets like cannabis) are in the same boat. I suspect a lot of business intelligence could be collected every day in these spaces.

  46. Hackers and other personal information miners love these unsecured forums. Wi-Fi hot spot? Ka-ching!

  47. Good thing these places are closed for lunch , tired of not being able to sit and enjoy my coffee at a Starbucks . They not only take up table space , they spread out and if you take a seat at a table they're hogging , they get snippy .

  48. I think it should be noted once again that "Only 5 percent have made the cut to become Spacious spaces, said the company, which is unprofitable." This seems to be all too common, so many startups sound great on paper but there appears to be no path to profitability.

  49. All too common for who, is the question. The status quo works very well for a very small handful of people, & a very small handful of other people who get a buzz out of writing about them uncritically.

  50. The cost of living in Brooklyn isn't much cheaper than the cost of living in Manhattan. I think I see what you’re trying to say; in theory, your employer could set you free to live in, say, New Hampshire, and you or they could pay a co-working space for infrequent meetings in pricier places. That's been a possibility for years now, though, and it isn't happening on a large scale. Do you honestly think it would be an unqualified win for employees to live hundreds of miles away from their friends, their favorite restaurants & bars & whatnot, and from the communities they otherwise feel connected to? Not to mention far away from airports. It’s not as if Americans have invested much in trains & other public transportation.

  51. "Everything is now a co-working space..."

    Excellent, excellent...the lumpenprole are becoming indoctrinated to allow their labors to consume more and more of their lives. Soon the outdated concepts of "leisure" and "weekends" will be cast down and forgotten and maximum profitability will be achieved.

    Sincerely, the 0.001%

  52. @Pat

    Interesting thought, but I'd say this may have the opposite effect considering the strict 5pm closing time.

  53. The Republican Agenda (for the Super-Rich):

    America reduced to a 3rd world country. A nation of sweatshops where compliant workers live in ignorance, fear, illness and poverty, while the 1% bleed us and invest tax-free overseas.

    You don’t share this dream? VOTE BLUE!

  54. "that’s why you feel weird in a coffee shop all day, because all of these spaces are designed for you to leave."

    Based on my experience, I think the squatters got over any feeling of "weirdness" about 3 years ago. Some even feel their rights are being violated when a local Mom and Pop coffee shop posts a sign banning laptops on weekends.

  55. In this country, the more stupid the idea the better chance it has of succeeding. Thus, Spacious.