The Cafe Workspace

Our team just had an offsite brainstorming meeting at the Workshop Cafe in the heart of the financial district in San Francisco. It is this neat little coffee shop attached to a spacious co-working space, with a mobile website that manages the spots available for sitting down and working as well as ordering food and drinks from the cafe and kitchen itself.

I’m personally not a fan of working out of coffee shops; I prefer the comforting confines of home with expansive monitors and ergonomic keyboards. I do know a lot of people, though, who enjoy the ambiance found in coffee shops and get more energetic by both the caffeine and the people mulling around. There’s a distinct environment of activity and conversation and food that isn’t present in other venues like public libraries or co-working offices.

Of course, the problem is that people who sit at a cafe for hours nursing a small cup of house coffee take up valuable space, wifi bandwidth, and possibly power outlets. A few years back, the tension was enough to cause some cafes to turn off wifi or to enact no squatting policies, though more recently the issue has been less contentious.

Workshop Cafe leans into this problem by essentially just charging for the use of their space instead of trying to subsidize the cost with food. The cost is $2-3/hour for a single person in a single spot, which seems fair given the ample power outlets, strong wifi, and the cafe’s location in the downtown area. Compared to various co-working spaces in San Francisco, leasing a table here — though obviously much less formal — requires much less commitment and is much cheaper to boot.

The web developer in me also got warm fuzzies when I saw how they manage their business with a mobile site1. For once, the appropriate technology is applied to the use case:

  1. The user enters their phone number on a tablet or via the public website
  2. The backend texts a link to the user
  3. The user creates a new session, and can check into a space
  4. The user can check out or order food/drinks to their space
  5. On checkout, they pay the cashier based on their set of logged interactions2

Even though the site wasn’t particularly fast and lacks the general UX polish of a native app, it perfectly fits the drop-in-whenever user; there’s no download or app updates or fighting for space on the home screens of phones when an SMS and a URL are enough to onboard a user.
So if you find yourself in downtown SF needing a place to crash for a few hours, I’d totally recommend Workshop Cafe.

  1. Though I was pretty confused when they kept on calling it an app.

  2. This would be right place to add payment integration, although it’s unclear whether using our software actually drives a better user experience.

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