January 19, 2017

How do cafés spark innovation?

Innovation in cafe design can be seen in how the design of spaces are changing and adapting to customer needs.

The growing use of mobile devices now allows workers to adopt a “work from anywhere” approach. This flexibility means that many people may now prefer to work from a café table rather than a workstation. Similarly, cafés themselves have become more portable. Coffee carts and shipping containers allow greater flexibility in the location and permanence of a café.

It turns out that your customers tapping away on their laptop while sipping a latte and listening to the usual background chatter in your café are likely to solve creative problems more easily, adapt to new ideas more readily and be less distracted than they would be if seated in the office. While most of us associate cafés with coffee, research suggests that cafés also provide the perfect environment for creative thinking and innovation.

While this may sound surprising, a recent study by the University of British Colombia indicates that the background noise levels in a café may spark innovation. So what does this mean for café owners? There is an opportunity for café owners to create an environment which is set up to appeal to corporate customers by making it easy for them to work for an hour or two while enjoying coffee or a bite to eat. Providing a place to plug in smart phones or other mobile devices, giving customers access to Wi-Fi or even creating a space which is suitable for meetings will help to meet the needs of corporate customers.

Coffee has become so much a part of the Australian culture that many of the best locations for cafés, coffee shops and hole-in-the-wall espresso bars are already taken. Some café owners are finding creative solutions to this problem. Shipping container cafés are one of the innovative design trends popping up at the moment in shopping centres, markets, airports and vacant urban spaces. With the flexibility to be located almost anywhere, shipping containers are giving café owners the ability to design the space to suit their requirements, rather than taking on a lease which is fixed to a specific location.

In 2014 The Coffee Club set a precedent by becoming the first major café chain in Australia to offer coffee and food from a shipping container. George Dravias, a Coffee Club Franchisee, has recently been awarded an international food and beverage award for his shipping container café located at the Brisbane Domestic Airport. Dravias sees the use of the refurbished shipping containers as a competitive advantage, as it provides a point of difference for customers.

In the space of just a few years, repurposed shipping containers have becoming increasingly popular for cafés, food markets, bars and a range of retail spaces. Large scale examples include Christchurch’s Re:Start mall, which features a range of food and fashion retailers in a funky outdoor shopping mall and Brisbane’s Eat Street Markets.

So why shipping containers? There are advantages and disadvantages in operating a café in such a compact space. The advantages include the ability to be located (almost) anywhere. Available in 10 and 20 foot standard sizes, the dimensions of the containers work well for quick service hospitality businesses. While the layout is tight, containers can be functional if the space is well planned, and there will certainly be no wasted space. Another big advantage can be the ability to predict and reduce fitout cost. In comparison to a regular café, shipping container cafés can be purchased as either a raw container or a fully fitted out café.

While the tight compact layout of a shipping container will not meet the needs of every café, they do provide an interesting alternative that allows café owners to set up without taking on the lease of a larger space.

The key to innovation is responding to change. Understanding the wider social and cultural trends we are facing, including adapting to new technologies and lifestyle choices, will allow café owners to innovate and stay ahead of the game.

Alisa Newey – CEO, Renew Design
Renew Design is an Interior Design consultancy specialising in working with hospitality businesses to open new sites on time and on budget, while also delivering a remarkable experience for their customers.

Images courtesy of The Hungry Bear & ContainerKit

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