10 Questions – Flat Caps Coffee

There is nowhere that embodies the cafe as a place of work trend quite like Flat Caps Coffee. Walk in there and you’ll find laptops on tables with business people and creatives hunched around them. Richard Dawson speaks to owner Joe Meagher about his views on cafe culture

What does it take to run a successful café here in the North East?

Simply having great coffee won’t do it on it alone, you need to have excellent customer service, an atmosphere where people want to spend their time and feel comfortable and you need to be welcoming to everybody. It’s an easy mistake to assume that everyone wants the same thing so instead being ready for different requests and expectations. Accommodating them when you can will make a huge difference to how successful the business is.

What are some of the main challenges doing business in the world of coffee?

Price is a big one for me, if coffee was any other product like alcohol or food we’d be charging at least 3-4 times as much per drink. The lengths we go to to ensure our coffee is the best around from the equipment costs, staff training, coffee sourcing etc etc mean that we are under charging for our coffees. The problem is there just isn’t the appetite to pay that much for a cup of coffee so we have to set our price point around a customer expectations. As coffee becomes more scarce due to global warming businesses will find it harder to buy quality coffee. There’ll be a choice to make, drop the quality or maintain standards but either have to raise prices significantly or not make money on your coffee products.

How do you set yourself apart from the global coffee brands who dominate the market?

We have our own style. Chains look and feel how they do for a reason and we just want to be ourselves. I think people like to visit not only us but other independent shops depending on how they feel that day. It’s nice to be part of an independent community that goes against the generic.

Why do you think such a thriving café culture has emerged in the North East in recent years?

This follows on from the last question. Customers want choice so when the high street is full of the same thing over and over it’s refreshing to go beyond that and find small businesses doing something in their own way.

What proportion of your customers would you say come into the café to do work or for business purposes?

During the week it’s about 50/50. We have a large table that sits 14 people that quite often gets booked for meetings etc.

Why do you think people prefer to do work in a café rather than the office?

I think it’s nice to be around other people doing the same thing. You don’t have to talk or communicate but seeing others on their laptops and enjoying a lovely cup of coffee is comforting. I think the buzz of a busy coffee shop is also just very pleasant, why wouldn’t you want to work there? I love it!

Do you think people will be more or less productive working from a café?

I have no idea but I’d like to think so.

Do you think giving people the opportunity to use the café as an office increases your revenues?

It offers a more consistent revenue across the week and brings a lot of new people to the shop who may not have otherwise came who may return on a social visit.

Are there any potential drawbacks to people using cafes as a place of work?

The potential is that you get a shop full of individual workers using a single table each, if this was to happen then it would obviously impact our ability to generate enough income to survive. It doesn’t though, people understand how business works and it all balances out. You’ll always get the odd person who sits all day at a large table to themselves and doesn’t spend much money and will try and sneak a packed lunch in but it’s so few and far between it’s enough of a concern to change how we do things at the moment.

If you could say one thing to the people who come into your café for business purposes, what would it be?

I’d like to welcome them and make sure they know we’re happy to have them here.

Flat Caps Coffee