Will Post-Covid Working Mean The End Of The Coffee Shop?

On the back of the news that high-street food and coffee shop Pret A Manger is closing 30 stores with 1,000 job losses, there’s been talk of how the pandemic has had an effect on other similar stores, and what it means for their future.

Pret, who has seen a 74% decrease in sales during the Coronavirus outbreak, were seen to be stalwarts of commutes and lunch breaks. But this is perhaps part of the issue – are shops such as newsagents, high street supermarkets and on-the-go food shops bearing the brunt of us having to stay at home?

How Working From Home Has Changed Our Habits

With the change in working conditions from those who would often commute into busier towns for work has also come a change in the footfall of these establishments.

People are no longer nipping out during lunch breaks or picking up something to eat on their journey to and from work, which has also negatively affected shops and newsagents in train stations, airports and in city centres.

Many food establishments were indeed able to adapt and stay partly open throughout at least some of lockdown – Pret themselves offered a takeaway and delivery service in some stores, which those who live locally could make use of.

But it is thought that a lot of the custom which chain coffee stores receive is from non-locals, which is perhaps why some smaller independent cafes in more residential areas with loyal customers have fared slightly better.

But the Government are still advising people who can work from home to do so. Many coffee shops, cafes and takeaways which have safely reopened would often see a huge boost in sales from commuters and workers buying coffees, breakfast items and lunches during the week, so sales are still very low compared to last year.

Coronavirus: A Change In Coffee Consumerism

While more people are WFH, coffee as a whole hasn’t seen a fall in sales. Along with home items, books and bicycles (to help those commuters still travelling to avoid public transport), coffee is one of the things with booming sales.

Home Coffee Making Working From Home

People who once bought their caffeine from ‘proper’ coffee shops to help avoid instant coffee and a whole lot of office washing-up have not turned their backs on the drink, but have instead turned to home brewing.

The switch from out-of-home to in-home consumption means that companies who were once roasting and selling to coffee shops or offices in bulk are now reaching out directly to the consumer. Where an office could buy enough coffee in one go for 10 employees to last a month, these employees are now buying their coffee separately, and perhaps also for a few people in a household.

Rave Coffee once had 11 members of staff; this has risen by 5 to cope with demand. They not only sell coffee online but subscription boxes too. The latter has been a big trend throughout Lockdown – as demand in supermarket produce and local shops became stockpiling-esque, people turned to subscription boxes for not only coffee but also vegetables, fruit, alcohol, washing produce and flowers.

It isn’t just the actual coffee which has boomed in sales, either. To make a decent coffee shop brew, you need good equipment and the likes of pod and bean to cup machines have also seen a steep increase in sales versus the forecasted rise.

The Future Of Coffee Shops After Covid

General coffee sales as such will likely never decrease, especially with how the popularity of speciality coffee and coffee shops has seen the market rise in the past decade.

But with many companies having said that they may actually never reopen their office space, and will encourage people to WFH even after Covid to save money, the consumer’s relationship with coffee shops could change.

Global Workplace Analytics has forecast that 25-30% of the workforce could be working at home on a multiple-days-a-week basis by the end of 2021. It is thought that many of these may be city centre workers who would traditionally nip into cafes to pick up takeaway coffees and meals. WFH has shown that for many, it has been a simpler change than originally thought.

Currently being able to go to your nearest cafe in order to grab a coffee and sit for a few hours while doing work on your laptop is not possible, but for cafes to move with consumer habits, it could mean encouraging this kind of custom in future.

Laptop on a table in a coffee shop

But for those who can’t WFH, offices may look at investing in coffee equipment for their workforce to use rather than them going to coffee shops. We wrote about how this can save workplaces money versus buying in coffees or using a kettle, which could be important if cost-saving is vital.

There was, of course, already a changing pattern in coffee consumerism amongst commuters and workers conscious about the planet, with rises in the sales of reusable coffee flasks, ‘easy’ coffee makers such as the Aeropress and cafetieres, and coffee bags for office use.

While coffee shops had adapted for this with encouragement for reusable cups, a change in the ordinary 9-5 working life will need to be taken into consideration for the post-Covid world. After all, forging human connections is at its core.

But retailers are optimistic; it is one of the UK’s most resilient economies, and while major short-term concerns are present, a World Coffee Portal study found that out of 17 choices, an overwhelming number cited visiting cafes and coffee shops as the thing they miss second-most, behind visiting family and friends (at 42%).

So the buzz around 4th wave coffee and a wish for people to one day get back to normal and appreciate the little things again will likely mean the end of the coffee shop is definitely not on the horizon.

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