Dollar Scholar asks: How much should I spend when hanging out at a coffee shop all day?
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Here in New York, we’re in the winter doldrums, and the century-old heaters in my apartment are proving totally inadequate to keep me warm. Rather than risk getting frostbite in my own house, I took my laptop to a nearby cafe. It has wifi, pastries and, above all, reliable heating.
I do not even know to like so much coffee! I’m just trying to avoid freezing my ass.
The only problem is that when I spend an afternoon working from the cafe, I feel like a total mooch. I get paranoid that I don’t buy enough, that I take up too much space, that baristas secretly judge me for bankrupting their small business with my lizard habits.
To make matters worse, there isn’t much information online about the “coffice” label. It may not matter. Maybe no one else cares to come off as a fool. But I certainly do, and I’ve been worried about budgeting for my increasingly frequent coffee sessions.
How much money should I spend while sitting in a cafe?
I contacted Claire Bowen, a self-proclaimed “coffeepreneur” and one of the authors of The Daily Grind: How to Open and Run a Money-Making Cafe, for answers. Bowen started by explaining to me why cafes offered features that were decidedly other than coffee in the first place.
“We tell our customers that their main business is not selling coffee; it is to offer hospitality. The coffee business model has been based on selling a comfortable space for a period of time for the price of a cup of coffee for hundreds of years,” she adds. “Generally, the more delicious the environment and the food, the more frequently people will visit and the more they will spend.”
It all comes down to the idea that a coffee shop is a third place, as sociologist Ray Oldenburg called it in 1989. A third place is a home away from home – not your home, not your job, but a place like a library or a church.
Bowen explains that creating a third place doesn’t come cheap. The biggest costs for a cafe are “staff salaries, ingredient cost, then rent and electricity, in that order,” she says. The simple process of opening the store for the day can cost $300.
“People don’t necessarily think about it when they expect free 24/7 internet access or buy a cup of coffee and camp for four, five or six hours,” says Melissa Villanueva , founder and CEO of Brewpoint Coffee in Illinois.
Villanueva says to pause and really think about what’s going on in this (heated) space that I enjoy so much. Cafes often diversify their offerings as part of a financial strategy. For example, she has a 4,000 square foot location where she not only lets people sit and work, but also roasts coffee beans, hosts events, allows private rentals and more. again.
The revenue generated from these opportunities allows the store to keep the lights on. But a warm place to sit? That’s not the main goal – especially if I’m not contributing significantly to the bottom line.
“Everything else we give you is a convenience we don’t have to give. It’s part of our mission and what we want to bring to the community, but who pays for it? adds Villanueva. “At the end of the day, a $5 latte doesn’t cover our rent, furniture, and upkeep.”
That’s true in normal times but especially during the pandemic, which has caused 38% of small businesses to cut their budgets to survive, according to a survey. The supply chain situation isn’t helping either: coffee cups and straws are in short supply, and the price of Arabica coffee recently hit a 10-year high.
With all of that in mind, Villanueva says I should plan to, at a minimum, buy $5 worth of product per hour.
“Think carefully: if you spend three hours, spend $15: a drink or two and a pastry,” she says.
Along the same lines, Bowen recommends buying “something for every part of the day” I’m at, including breakfast, lunch, and afternoon.
There are also other ways to be a good office worker. Bowen says to keep my personal items nearby and to be nice to the staff. Tips are always appreciated. Spreading the word about the quality of the coffee, both IRL and leaving five-star reviews online, can’t hurt. And I always have to be careful not to take up more space than necessary.
It might seem obvious, but “if you’re an individual, find a smaller table so the café can accommodate larger groups as they pass,” says Villanueva.
The bottom line
Breastfeeding a cup of cheap tea is not cool. If I spend several hours in a cafe, I would have to buy several items, losing at least $5 each time. After all, I enjoy several free conveniences (cough, heat, cough) whose coffee pays the bill.
On that note, says Villanueva, I shouldn’t be surprised if the retailer raises prices in the near future, given current trends. These increases may seem arbitrary, but they are often beyond the owner’s control.
“If you really believe that this cafe should exist in terms of space for a customer – this third place – it costs something,” she adds. “Are we ready to shoulder the burden together?
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