Bengaluru cafes doubling up as working spaces for professionals

Bengaluru City Economy Pandemic

Boredom at home and flexibility are driving the trend

An increasing number of freelancers and work-from-home employees have turned cafes into coworking spaces in Bengaluru, say café owners.

Covid-19 had a massive impact on the food service industry in India, with sales plummeting by 49 per cent, even after restrictions were eased in the third quarter of financial year 2020-21, according to the National Restaurant Association of India’s report titled Covid Impact on the Food Services Industry 2021.

However, with a further reopening of the economy, and changing customer demands, cafes across the city are accommodating working people. A      recent trend is the establishment of co-working cafes targeted towards people who need a space to work outside of home.

Udit Bhudhiraja, co-founder of Habitation Cafe on Lalbagh Main Road, said the trend arises from the need to survive in the industry.

“Cafes are struggling big time. People still aren’t comfortable sitting in cafes and having their meals. So this is why they are looking for a second source of income…. Deliveries don’t essentially generate any revenue for us. And in a time when there are more freelancers and employees working from home who want flexibility, we want to be able to provide for that demand for spaces. We are essentially Uber for working spaces,” Bhudhiraja informed The Observer.

Nayantara Bagla, chef and partner at Bangalore Creative Circus in     Yeshwantpur, cited similar reasons. “Companies are now considering flexible working models. They are realizing they don’t need dedicated real estate for their organisations to work. So in such a scenario, our cafe fills the gap.”

“In a traditional cafe, a person could block one seat for the whole day without generating much for the cafe itself. But our entire cafe isn’t a co-working space; they are separated. So such accommodation helps avoid problems for us,” Bagla added.

The trend of co-working cafes has another angle, Bhudhiraja said.

“Since corporates are considering flexible working day models, people will need a space to work. In a co-working space, unlike cafes, one has to take up monthly passes. So coworking cafes fill in the gap when we provide such flexibility in time and cost.”

Aakash Kumar, a director and writer, likes cafes for their ambience.

“I go to cafes because they free me from my responsibilities at home for a while.… You get services like tea and food in a casual environment. The ambience is helpful,” he said.

Chetna Kaur, an interaction designer, said such cafes provide a respite from the confines of the home. “Working in the co-working cafes gives me a sense of being a part of something bigger. It gets me out from being stuck within four walls. And because I can see stuff happening around me, it sometimes helps in sparking inspiration for my work.”

Keshav K, Chetna’s friend, while agreeing with her, thinks that ultimately coworking cafes are still not as useful. “I live in the city, and have a home where I already get food. I don’t understand why I would have to come outside to work unless I have to meet someone. Working in cafes isn’t exactly cost-effective,” he said.

Heetarthi Jodhani, an industrial psychologist, thinks the boredom of home alone isn’t the only reason behind the trend. “Co-working cafes will thrive because they serve as communities for freelancers who can be hired for projects and contracts. While people will come there because they are bored of sitting at home, the flexibility of having to work outside of an office is also appealing. It helps them network and build their social capital, which was perhaps the biggest setback during Covid. Additionally, people have realised that they can be just as productive while working at their      own pace. Hence, we see even corporates considering three-day work weeks to accommodate such flexibility.”

But Jodhani cautions that the uptick in people working in such cafes might not necessarily ensure productivity. “There is a high possibility that one might get distracted in cafes. It is like a playground… you might be doing something and take a break and go talk to someone. But before you know it, you might have wasted more time than intended,” she said.


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