Graduate Plus: The new blend of cafe society

Business meetings are on the move - to coffee shops. Anna Foster explains why

Go to the brasserie of the National Gallery these days and instead of overhearing the chatter of Degas devotees, you may find yourself eavesdropping on the finesse of a business deal. "Cappuccino consultancy" is the term Jane Landy and Andrew Cooper give to their network of virtual offices around London. Because they run their consultancy business Mindworks from their respective homes in east and south London, they need an attractive space in which to meet clients.

The brasserie in the National Gallery's Sainsbury Wing is their favourite virtual office. "It's air-conditioned, spacious, comfortable and rarely busy in the morning," says Landy. "Our virtual office may have cost a few million pounds to build, but we use the facilities for the price of a cup of coffee and the occasional Danish pastry." Landy confirms meetings on a postcard from the gallery.

Mindworks once leased a suite of offices in Bloomsbury costing several thousand a year. Now they use a serviced office (also in Bloomsbury) to take phone calls and post. For meetings, they pick venues to suit clients. The National Gallery is convenient for their Whitehall-based public-sector clients. For meetings with private companies, they have convened at the cafes in the Festival Hall, on river boats on the Thames, and they have even travelled to Paris on the Eurostar, working on the train and over lunch at the Louvre.

Cooper believes organisations are still quite conservative in their attitudes to home-based businesses.

"There are many misconceptions about working from home," says Cooper. "People think it means working at home, but of course it doesn't. Very few people could work entirely at home."

Devoting attention to the right venue is as important as if you were renting an office. For Caroline Blunden, a specialist in contemporary Chinese painting, ambience is important because she frequently entertains visiting Chinese artists. "I choose places which are informal and where the artists can do a bit of sightseeing at the same time,." she says.

Blunden is a regular at the Design Museum cafe and at the South Bank Centre, which provide "great views of the Tower and the Houses of Parliament".

Blunden splits her working day between home in Battersea, the Alan Baxter Gallery in Clerkenwell - where she is currently exhibiting around a dozen Chinese artists - and her virtual offices. For corporate clients who view the exhibition in private she will talk finance afterwards in one of Smithfield's cafes or fish restaurants.

Most cafes at galleries and concert halls are happy to become offices, as long as customers keep buying refreshments. A table of businessmen drinking one cup of coffee an hour does not make financial sense when tired and parched gallery-goers are queuing up outside.

"We are very happy to be a venue for business meetings," says Mike Rickard, general manager of the brasserie at the Sainsbury Wing. "We have no music, the atmosphere is subtle and people can talk undisturbed. The tables are big and we see lots of PCs, mobile phones and briefcases coming out."

Far less discreet in tone are the string of Aroma cafes which have sprung up around London. They have a motto: "15 minutes of sunshine," and pulse to Latin American samba as customers soak up the Mediterranean oranges, aquamarines and ochres of the decor. Coffee is their speciality and comes frothed, whipped, iced, decaffeinated and flavoured.

"The idea is to come off the streets of London and have a 15-minute holiday," says David Carter, manager of the Bishopsgate branch of Aroma.

Customers include employment agencies conducting job interviews, fashion companies with portfolios and City workers holding meetings away from the formality of the office. According to Neil Dookun, the company's operations manager, "Aroma is a great place to be seen, we're very vibrant, very lifestyle, and we're riding on the back of a trend."

Many organisations are now peopled by homeworkers, freelancers and consultants. A company's clients, in fact, are likely to be equally office-less.

Jonathan Theobald, a video director/producer, runs his company Country Films from his Wimbledon home. "The video industry is full of freelancers," he says.

"I think people feel uncomfortable holding meetings in their own homes. It is difficult for both the company and client with interruptions from spouses, pets and children."

Recently he organised a meeting in the Langham Hilton Hotel, north of Oxford Circus. His client was based in Hereford and the public relations people came from Shropshire. Both were visiting London on business anyway. "I chose a central place and we sat in the bar and drank coffee," says Theobald. "I don't need to rent an office and the meeting cost me three cups of coffee."

New Articles
tvDownton Abbey Christmas special
Arts and Entertainment
Wolf (Nathan McMullen), Ian (Dan Starky), The Doctor (Peter Capaldi), Clara (Jenna Coleman), Santa Claus (Nick Frost) in the Doctor Who Christmas Special (BBC/Photographer: David Venni)
tvOur review of the Doctor Who Christmas Special
News
peopleIt seems you can't silence Katie Hopkins, even on Christmas Day...
Arts and Entertainment
Left to right: Stanley Tucci, Sophie Grabol and Christopher Eccleston in ‘Fortitude’
tvSo Sky Atlantic arrived in Iceland to film their new and supposedly snow-bound series 'Fortitude'...
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Kellie Bright as Linda Carter and Danny Dyer as Mick Carter

EastEnders Christmas specials are known for their shouty, over-the-top soap drama but tonight the show has done itself proud thanks to Danny Dyer.

Arts and Entertainment
Jenna Coleman as Clara Oswald in the Doctor Who Christmas special
tvForget the rumours that Clara Oswald would be quitting the Tardis
Arts and Entertainment
Japanese artist Megumi Igarashi showing a small mascot shaped like a vagina
art
News
The Queen delivers her Christmas message
newsTwitter reacts to Her Majesty's Christmas Message
Arts and Entertainment
tv
Life and Style
fashion
Sport
sport
Arts and Entertainment
Call The Midwife: Miranda Hart as Chummy
tvCall the Midwife Christmas Special
Sport
Laura Trott and Jason Kenny are preparing for the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow
sport
Arts and Entertainment
Sir Bruce Forsyth with Tess Daly in the BBC's Strictly Come Dancing Christmas Special
tvLouis Smith wins with 'Jingle Bells' quickstep on Strictly Come Dancing's Christmas Special
News
news
Arts and Entertainment
tv
Latest stories from i100
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Student

Ashdown Group: 1st Line IT Support - Surrey - £24,000

£20000 - £24000 per annum + training: Ashdown Group: Graduate IT Support Helpd...

Recruitment Genius: Graduate Audit Assistant

£19000 - £21000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Audit Graduate Opportunities ar...

Guru Careers: Graduate Marketing Analyst / Online Marketing Exec (SEO / PPC)

£18 - 24k (DOE): Guru Careers: A Graduate Marketing Analyst / Online Marketing...

FDM Group: Business and Technical IT Consultants – London, Manchester, Glasgow

21,000-24,000: FDM Group: Kick-start your career and join FDM’s award-winning ...

Day In a Page

Isis in Iraq: Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment by militants

'Jilan killed herself in the bathroom. She cut her wrists and hanged herself'

Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment
Ed Balls interview: 'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'

Ed Balls interview

'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'
He's behind you, dude!

US stars in UK panto

From David Hasselhoff to Jerry Hall
Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz: What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?

Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz

What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?
Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Planet’s surface is inhospitable to humans but 30 miles above it is almost perfect
Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history - clocks, rifles, frogmen’s uniforms and colonial helmets

Clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms

Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history
Return to Gaza: Four months on, the wounds left by Israel's bombardment have not yet healed

Four months after the bombardment, Gaza’s wounds are yet to heal

Kim Sengupta is reunited with a man whose plight mirrors the suffering of the Palestinian people
Gastric surgery: Is it really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Is gastric surgery really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Critics argue that it’s crazy to operate on healthy people just to stop them eating
Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction Part 2 - now LIVE

Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction

Bid on original art, or trips of a lifetime to Africa or the 'Corrie' set, and help Homeless Veterans
Pantomime rings the changes to welcome autistic theatre-goers

Autism-friendly theatre

Pantomime leads the pack in quest to welcome all
The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

Sony suffered a chorus of disapproval after it withdrew 'The Interview', but it's not too late for it to take a stand, says Joan Smith
From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?

Panto dames: before and after

From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?
Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Booksellers say readers are turning away from dark modern thrillers and back to the golden age of crime writing
Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best,' says founder of JustGiving

Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best'

Ten million of us have used the JustGiving website to donate to good causes. Its co-founder says that being dynamic is as important as being kind
The botanist who hunts for giant trees at Kew Gardens

The man who hunts giants

A Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there