Pay as you stay – Social project cafe concept opens in Manchester

2nd March 2015

Here at Barber, we’re always interested to hear about innovative store designs or retail ideas, so this social cafe concept from Manchester sounds absolutely intriguing. Ziferblat is the UK’s second café (that we know of) where the food and drinks are free and the customers are instead charged for the time that they spend there – 5p per minute.

Photo by Dane Deaner on Unsplash

Photo by Dane Deaner on Unsplash

Ziferblat is a Russian concept – the first store opened in that hotbed of trendy concept stores – Shoreditch in East London. Offering unlimited coffee and food, Wi-Fi and board games. Time is measured using an old-fashioned alarm clock, which is returned t the counter at the end of their stay. The fact that this is the second store to open, indicates that it is experiencing some form of success – although the initial price of 3p per minute (£1.80 per hour) was adjusted to 5p per minute once the Shoreditch store got a handle on their customer base. The concept was first launched in Moscow in 2011 (Ziferblat means ‘clockface’ in Russian). Followed by several cafes opening around Europe. Here in the UK the franchise is focused on opening one Ziferblat store in every University town, which would mean more than fifty stores.

So what’s the retail interior like? Jody Appleton of the Guardian described it as a cross between “nana’s frontroom and a travel hostel common room” and said it offers a more relaxed alternative to other ‘coffices’ (cafes used as offices) which might be filled with more annoying businessey types and you may feel guilty for buying one coffee and outstaying your welcome.

Head of operations at the new café, Gareth Harold, explains the appeal of the new store:

“When you go into an establishment where you eat or drink, you expect a transaction, you purchase something that enables you to occupy that space for a certain amount of time. Here, you can kill time and you don’t actually have to eat or drink at all if you don’t want to – but if you do, you can help yourself.

“The idea is you’re paying for the space, you’re not paying for what you consume.”

The profit margins are small – for example some people might come in and drink a cup of coffee in ten minutes and therefore only pay 50p but the company insists in it’s mission statement that the concept is not a business model, but a social project.

Whatever the motivation, the new Manchester café is proving very popular as they broke the company record with 417 people through on Valentine’s Sunday (romance – or coincidence?) and we’ll be very interested to see if it is rolled out to other towns.