The Cultural Café Revolution

Are you ready for the Cultural Café Revolution asks Paul Smith, Director, Montfort Catering Consultants?

Cafes and other places to eat, drink and socialise have long been an essential component of the visitor experience and organisational DNA within museums and other cultural, leisure and heritage venues. For many, they also provide an essential income stream that cultural and arts organisations have become reliant upon to support greater commercial resilience and reduce dependence on funding. That was until early 2020 with the arrival of Covid-19!

The impact of Covid-19 on the hospitality sector has been catastrophic, affecting cafés and the like across all locations with no exception to those included within cultural, heritage and leisure venues. But there have also been broader significant fundamental behavioural shifts as a result of the pandemic and we believe that these same venues have the perfect opportunity to reposition, realign and benefit.

The Behavioural Shift

Increased home and remote working is here to stay. Of course people will return to offices and other workplaces but it is unlikely to be the same as pre Covid-19 levels.

If the pandemic has provided any silver lining, for many it has been the realisation to readjust their work life balance. Combine that with organisations now looking at reduced office spaces and increased remote working and you have the perfect recipe for new opportunities.

Remote working is certainly not new and before Covid-19 the sight of customers beavering away on laptops in cafes or chatting over a latte with colleagues and business acquaintances was commonplace. But what is apparent now is that there will be a significant increase in remote working and many cafes, particularly on the high street, simply do not have the space and are not configured to be able to accommodate this growing and attractive market while still meeting their commercial obligations.

The Cultural Café Revolution

There can be no time in modern history like this moment with so many people longing to be in the presence of family, friends and colleagues, and while the vaccine brings that goal in sight it is also apparent that the way we work and meet for work purposes will be different and most likely more remote, particularly for those many roles that don’t require people to be in specific locations. For many, the choice to return to a more structured environment and defined place of work is unlikely to be an option.

New agile integrated work and social spaces have been springing up for some time before Covid-19 – coffee exchange lounges on business parks and club collectives providing co-working spaces for smaller organisations and individuals. Some of these have also integrated complementary and paid for activities and events including business talks as well as social and ‘play’ activities. Now consider that further for a moment!

Museums, galleries, art centres, historic properties and all manner of cultural, heritage and leisure venues up and down the country already do those things and so much more, and a significant number already have cafes or other places to eat and drink as well as often other under-utilised spaces. Surely this has to be the time for the cultural café  – a unique cultural place to meet, work, socialise, participate, learn and of course, eat and drink!

Curated Café Spaces

As food and drink specialists Montfort Catering Consultants have long supported organisations with the creation of curated café spaces – food and drink destinations integrated within the fabric of the organisation while also playing their part in contributing to the commercial resilience of the wider arts or heritage venue.

We have found that most cafes and other types of eating and drinking spaces within arts organisations benefit from close alignment to the wider artistic and educational programme, making them less of a passive extension to the organisation. The same is also relevant when appealing to alternative markets.

While many cafes and often naturally lend themselves to informal locations for solo working and informal meetings, many strategic and operational considerations will need to be determined if such spaces are to be culturally sympathetic, commercially sustainable and successful. Some things to think about include:

  • Practicalities like having enough power sockets for laptops, phones and tablets as well as adequate free wifi.
  • Seating style and configuration to suit different party sizes while not overly reducing your occupancy potential.
  • A relevant food and drink offer, likely to include an all day snacking menu.
  • An appropriate style of service to accommodate people that may not want to leave their seat and belongings but may want to buy another coffee or stay for lunch.
  • How the artistic and educational programme could be developed to integrate new business audiences, which may include relevant social, business, training and networking events.
  • The best approach to accommodate people wanting a space to stay and work for longer periods of time, which could include an alternative time based charging model or membership option with complimentary hospitality?
  • How to extend and encourage your new audience into more leisure and cultural activities.
  • Consideration as to how to integrate the unique element that your organisation does well and is known for?

It is these and many other aspects that will support in creating a truly unique integrated destination for eating, drinking, participation, cultural enrichment, self development and working, relevant to both existing audiences as well as appealing to new remote workers and businesses.

As well as cafes there are also broader related opportunities. We are often asked to advise on other integrated food and drink events as part of arts organisations’ broader strategy. These range from identifying and assessing the potential for occasional events such as corporate team building away-days supported via relevant food and drink partners through to larger opportunities including feasibility studies for conferences and regular off-site business meetings. All of which provide great food a drink opportunities.

How do I join the Cultural Café Revolution?

The starting point for many will depend where your organisation is currently on the journey but a good initial basis would be to consider Who, What, Where, How.

Who are your potential new café audiences? Are there local organisations and associations that could be engaged with? Do research and find out about them.

Whatare their needs and how does this translate to an integrated food, drink and broader offer?

Where are the spaces and locations that you can develop or reuse?

Howwill you balance the opportunities with the commercial requirements and the business plan?

We believe this is the time for the cultural café revolution – an opportunity for venues to provide enriched spaces and events to meet, work, socialise, unwind, participate, learn and of course, eat and drink!

Do get in touch with Montfort Catering Consultants for an informal chat if you would like to explore opportunities further and discuss how we could support you.

[First published in Association of Independent Museum (AIM), February 2021, p17 – click link here].


Posted on February 5th, 2021