The most expensive thing in a restaurant is an empty seat, according to restaurateur Erik Joyal. That’s why Mr. Joyal and co-owner John Sinopoli are partnering their Gare de l’Est Brasserie restaurant with Flexday – a Toronto startup that transforms restaurants into workspaces during their downtime.
Mr. Joyal says the rising cost of food, labour and rent over the past few years has independent restaurants under a lot of financial pressure and makes it hard for them to survive based on only regular hours of operation.
Restaurateurs have found ancillary business by partnering with companies such as Uber EATS, SkipTheDishes and Just Eat that deliver restaurant food.
The partnerships between restaurants and Flexday provide table space for people to set up their laptops and work: freelancers and others who find home is not a practical option, or are looking for somewhere to have a business meeting. Users pay a monthly membership fee to Flexday of $49 for seven days or $95 for unlimited days. Flexday has someone on-site to let them in.
Make Lemonade, Project Spaces, East Room, Workplace One and Verkspace are some of the other membership-based co-working spaces in Toronto, but they are not in partnerships with restaurants.
Flexday founder Justin Raymond said his service has thousands of members and will have 50 locations in the Greater Toronto and Hamilton Area by the end of this year. The Gare de l’Est Brasserie, which is set to start working with the service on Monday, will be Flexday’s first in Leslieville.
In exchange for the space, Flexday provides its restaurant partners with exposure.
Most of Flexday’s partnering restaurants are open only for dinner and share their spaces when no one else would be there. But Gare de l’Est is open all day, and Mr. Joyal said it will dedicate an area to Flexday members Monday through Friday while keeping the rest of the restaurant for regular patrons.
Mr. Joyal believes it could help drive sales if the guests upgrade their beverage or order food.
Since Flexday launched in the King-West area in October of 2017, many businesses have become more open to allowing employees to work from where they want, Mr. Raymond said.
He added that neighbouring spaces help people who can’t work at home, which can be too isolating or too busy.
“People are often distracted by all of the things that are at home – could be family members, could be chores, could be the television. It’s just not really an environment that is conducive to focused work and actually achieving high levels of productivity,” Mr. Raymond said.
Deanna Lambert, a freelance marketing consultant, uses Flexday’s workspaces about three times a week.
She pays for the unlimited Flexday plan and says it is worthwhile because she does not have to buy a drink or snacks to sit there.
Ms. Lambert said she was used to working in coffee shops and libraries.
“I just hated the guilt that I felt about spending $2 on a coffee and then just sitting somewhere for three to four hours. And also, it was just stressful to not know that you’re going to get a seat or to not feel like you can leave your stuff while you go to the washroom,” she said.
Ms. Lambert said Flexday has reduced that stress, and she likes having a variety of spaces on offer.