Conference café society

My local high street in North London used to have five pubs along a quarter-mile stretch, now three are coffee houses, while two other shops have also become coffee houses.

Now, despite hearing (more than once) the inspirational conference circuit story of success of Coffee Republic founder Sahar Hashemi, I am not of the coffee cup carrying generation.

There is no doubt, however, that along with the rush for caffeine in all its fashionable forms, we are increasingly using coffee shops primarily to meet. We do it in our own office at Mash Towers: Boardroom booked? No problem, nip across the road to Starbucks.

“Coffee shops always work for me,” says Matt Green, Director of the GMG Network consultancy, although I fear Coffee Republic may not be too old school for him. “For small meetings ‘Coffee in Touch’ is a useful app, which highlights your local independent coffee shops, saving you the embarrassment of having a meeting in a coffee chain,” he says.

If the coffee shop is full, unavailable, not cool enough for you brand-wise, and you feel a bit peckish, why not try a café?

Benefits include a casual environment and food. However, distractions are likely, from ambient noise to neighbouring conversations and people impinging on your space. If you know your client well and food does not get in the way, however, fill your boots. Wi-Fi is probably unlikely, however.

But, remember not to order the spaghetti, corn on the cob or crab claws while showing your event plans.

Money saving rating ***

Temporary offices
Temporary office supplier Regus has been moving rapidly into the meetings sphere, ramping up its motorway and station network. The deal on offer is for users to take out a membership (of varying tiers) enabling them to drop by for an hour or two here and there.

Regus is the biggest player in the world providing flexible workspace, with 1,800 locations in 100 countries. In the UK it has 220 business centres, 75 of which are in London.

Road and rail nodal points are popular meeting places and expansion would seem to be logical for Regus and other ‘third space’ operators.

Increasing competition is leading to more frequent-user discount offers from these suppliers.

We may be emerging from the recession, but the Business Confidence Index recently showed that reducing fixed workspace is an efficiency saving that a quarter of firms are prioritising.

John Spencer, UK CEO at Regus tells CN: “In the early days of teleworking, working from home and meeting contacts in cafés or hotel lobbies were the only options. But the movement towards more flexible ways of working has created huge demand for professional facilities that bridge the gap between the traditional office and the home office.”

The Regus Businessworld product ranges in cost from a monthly £35 membership that gives access to the UK Regus network of 220 business lounges with free Wi-Fi and refreshments. Basic meeting room prices start from £25/hour for four people, dependent on location. For that, you get a dedicated support team and free internet, flipchart, whiteboard and markers, water and pads.

Video- and teleconferencing facilities are also charged by the hour at the Regus centres.

Martin Vessey is a business adviser at Business Doctors Thames Valley, and a regular user of the Regus Express centre at Beaconsfield services.  He explains: “I have an office at home but to gain clients’ confidence it’s best to hold meetings in a professional setting. Using the centre certainly improves  my standing.”

Other operators in this field include Business Environment in the South West, offering an ‘&Meetings’ product for those wishing to hotdesk, and Targetspace, which has a range of properties in the South.

“We find that our customers like the online booking facility which means the process can be completed in less than two minutes and paid for via credit card,” Business Environment MD David Saul says.

Saul notes the prevalence of the term ‘coffice’ used to describe increased use of coffee shops for meetings, but believes that option doesn’t always strike the right tone. He argues that for all the chat about ‘funky’ office and meetings space, what people really want is somewhere that “caters for their business needs and importantly is affordable”.

Money saving rating **

Public Spaces

Do you remember when it was a real summer treat at school to be allowed by the teacher to move the class outside into the sports field for a lesson in the sun?

Those lucky enough to have access to greenery, gardens and fields near their workplace may also consider this an option. Many a brief encounter has been had on a park bench, moreover, although anything too sophisticated or requiring AV is obviously a bit more doubtful.

A walk in the park could also bring a breath of fresh air to a client catch-up, although also likely to be fairly seasonable, at least in the UK.

Remember libraries? Well, many have meeting rooms that are open to the public and free to reserve. This is an option that maintains the formality of an office space without the accompanying cost. Your meeting may have to be on the quiet side, however.

Money saving rating *****

Conference cuckoo
Those starting out in business often start with some support networks and rely heavily on friends and colleagues. So, don’t be shy to call in a favour if someone does not mind sharing their office space. Be careful not to overstay or milk your meetings welcome, however.

If you’re working from home maybe you could convert that utility room into a small meetings space?

Upsides include all the time you save not travelling. Downsides can include not being able to drag yourself away from daytime TV or the kitchen and, of course, if you have business visitors, you may have a panic attack if you need to clean the place in a hurry.

Money saving rating *****

Members’ club
If you do have a little bit of budget, then shed the cuckoo clothes and join a members’ club; there are some in London targetted even on travel and events industry professionals and deals on overnight stays are available for those requiring occasional accommodation. It’s not obligatory to sit reading The Telegraph and drink port looking like Rowley Birkin, QC, but a suitable club can reflect a great image for you and your firm. On top of that, there’s usually free Wi-Fi and staff on hand.

Membership fees usually apply and the posher the name the larger the fee.

Money saving rating **

Lobby correspondents
The phenomenon that started the train of thought leading to this article was the steady practice of meeting over tea or coffee for a short meet in a hotel lobby. Some hotels decided to cash in on the trend and introduced a minimum spend for those using their public areas to meet.

You may be made to feel uncomfortable and there could be hidden extras such as parking charges and the bill for refreshments which could all add up to the equivalent of a traditional room hire charge for a half-day.

If none of the above float your budget boat, how about investing in a videoconferencing solution? Video conference managed services, for example UCi2i, are the preferred option for GMG Network’s Matt Green. “With delegates in the UK and US you can save on both flights and accommodation, plus it’s also a fraction of the price of a satellite link.”

CN would love to hear of any other inventive money-saving tips for venue spend. Do get in touch if you wish to share.

Tips to make your meetings money last:

Triggerfish MD Andrew White:

Meet sweet
Is it a requisite that the meeting is all day, or could as much be achieved in a shorter space of time? Museums and public spaces are crying out for footfall and have created beautiful restaurants and coffee shops – ideal spaces for quick get-togethers away from the crowds. Somerset House and National Railway Museum are prime examples. 

Secret agent
Capitalise on your agency relationships and tip them off that you may be light on budget. Agents have a phenomenal list of last minute deals.
Escape the city
While London is perceived as being an epicentre for corporate activity, it’s also one of the most expensive destinations for hiring space. Transport costs too can be prohibitive. Either think outside the capital or get your delegates to arrive post rush hour when travel costs can be up to 50 per
cent cheaper.
MIA Chief Executive Jane Longhurst:

  • The low-hanging fruit in cost-savings usually involves reducing, reusing and recycling – don’t spend on what you don’t need; reuse or recycle what you can from your last meeting.
  • Control consumption. Use smaller cups for coffee and smaller plates. Reduce portion size, for instance by using smaller cuts of meat.
  • Hire the same AV company year-round to gain leverage on price. Talk to them about your goals; they may be able to substitute equipment that provides the effect you want for lower cost.
  • Use AIM accredited venues and suppliers as they operate under a strict set of criteria including quality of facilities, customer service and compliance with codes of conduct, saving you money and giving you piece of mind.

This was first published in the October issue of CN. Any comments? Email Paul Colston

Paul Colston


Paul Colston

Managing Editor, Conference News & Conference & Meetings World.

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