Coffee shops across America often battle with the age-old question: to offer or not to offer WiFi?
“We used to be very adamant about not doing it [offering free WiFi],” said Amanda Byron, director of coffee at Joe Coffee in New York and Philadelphia. “But we finally got to a point of realizing that we should just offer it because we were losing business. You don’t want people to just camp out all day, but now we’re slowly adding that in at our stores.”
But what if you do want people to camp out all day, or at the very least, don’t mind if they camp out? A recently-opened café in England has an entirely different business model than the typical American coffee shop. Ziferblat in London charges customers for the time spent in the space, rather than what they consume.
“The idea started mostly as a social experiment,” said Mark Brinkley, a Ziferblat employee. “Like having your own living room, but in a much better part of town than someone could afford to rent an apartment. Essentially what you end up doing is subletting to people as they come in, but instead of for a week or a month, it’s by the minute.”
Customers are encouraged to treat the space as their living room by helping themselves to whatever the want, like coffee, tea and snacks, or by bringing in their own food and using the kitchen appliances. Ziferblat charges three pence a minute, which converts to about five cents a minute, or $3 an hour.
“Once you’re here you can do pretty much whatever you want—except alcohol,” Brinkley said. “People don’t binge drink coffee or binge eat biscuits. But if they started to think you can drink as much booze as you can in an hour, it [the café] would become a completely different thing.”
Dana Halpern, a New York City resident and coffee shop regular, isn’t completely on board with the idea.
“I feel like it would interrupt my work flow. When I go to a coffee shop, it’s so I can enjoy my alone time and do what I need to do without worrying about extraneous details,” Halpern said. “If I didn’t want to spend more than say, $10, I would have to limit my time at the place, and that would stress me out and be counterproductive to why I’m there in the first place.”
Byron is also unsure this could work in America. “It just seems like an odd business model, and the rent is too high in New York especially. I don’t know what the benefit is,” she said. “And I think Americans might take more advantage of it than Europeans.”
Ready or not, Americans can brace themselves for their very own Ziferblat in the coming year. “Ivan, the owner, said this year they plan to open up in America, probably in New York,” Brinkley said.