Liverpool’s Ziferblat Cafe – Where Time is Literally Money
What is your time worth to you and others? Do you think you undervalue or overvalue it? In Liverpool we stumbled across a concept café where everything is free except the time you spend there. Ziferblat is a pay per minute cafe, a novel idea indeed, but have you thought about how you would react to a visit when each minute is costing you eight pence? Would you do the equivalent of a trolley dash or take your time and enjoy the food and the community?
Should I stay or should I go?
I feel like the white rabbit. I am cramming toast, juice and coffee into my mouth, wondering how long it might take me to go to the toilet and inwardly snorting at the idea of a game of Scrabble. But I am not late. I am just being billed for my time. As someone who can while away a whole day drinking coffee and writing a single verse of a poem, it’s a disorientating feeling. Ziferblat is a Russian word for clock face. There are clock faces everywhere in the room, which adds to the sensation of time being of utmost importance.
Ziferblat is a concept café and community space at Liverpool’s Albert Dock, just a stone’s throw from Tate Liverpool. It’s part of a family of fifteen scattered across Europe, all starting the stopwatch as soon as you enter. The first Ziferblat restaurant was opened in Moscow in 2011 by Ivan Meetin who called it a ‘treehouse for grownups.’ It began as a small scale enterprise, run on donations, before it later moved to the pay per minute model. The idea grew in popularity and soon Ziferblat branded cafes spread across Eastern Europe. Russia currently has four and they’ve also popped up in Slovenia, Germany and of course the UK, headed up by an East London branch.
How does it work?
Your time in the space goes like this:
- You sign in and are made aware of your start time.
- You help yourself to all the goodies including cakes, brownies, several kinds of coffee, breakfast cereals, toast and juice. The food is basic but most of it is recognizable household brands. The giant fridge is a dieter’s nightmare and the filter coffee is good.
- You find a seat in the cool jumble of tables and you sit and chat, think, write, play games, pen poetry.
- Or you stuff your face quickly, depending on how much you value your time. The only rule as far as I can see is that you have to do the washing up. This is interesting as there is only one sink and everyone is trying to avoid queuing because who wants to pay to wash up?
- And then you check out and pay. A grand total of 8p per person per minute. After half an hour, the bill for four of us comes to just under £10. The kids might have stayed longer but the White Rabbit in me chivied us out of the building.
White rabbit syndrome
I confess my anxiety to our ‘host’ Matty Jones. He grins and nods. “It’s obviously interesting to see how people react to it, and see how they are and how they conduct themselves in the space. I people watch 100 per cent. A lot of people expect others to take advantage of the situation. But they don’t because it’s such a lovely environment.”
The room is filled with board games, books, toys and even a piano. Do they pack it with stuff in order to distract people? Again he smiles. “Not really no. Most of the stuff is just there for fun. People come and will have a game of scrabble. Monopoly is obviously a killer. You can get Cluedo out of the way in about an hour or so!”
I ask him what’s the minimum time and money that anyone has ever spent. “One minute,” he replies. That’s a grand expenditure of 8p. “I try to make them feel as awkward as possible and make sure they leave with a guilty conscience firmly intact,” he laughs. “No not really, I’m joking. Some days people spend ages in here and other days we might get 200 people through the door and they’re all flying visits.”
Part of the ethos is to get people to stay a while and use Ziferblat as a community space and the owners have started work on the upstairs area, with meeting rooms for hire, space for art exhibitions, film screenings, yoga classes, etc.
Unlimited Relaxation for a limited price
For people like me who prefer to stay awhile and work or relax, Ziferblat has introduced a day rate. “Time is capped at four hours which costs £19.20. We have heaps of people co working and students who may come in and study for up to 8 hours. We encourage you to take your time and not feel obliged to spend more money or feel you are taking up a space. The people in coffee shop X want you out of the way, but that’s not what we want, we want you to feel comfortable,” Matty explains.
It’s interesting to think about the time you spend relaxing and leads me to question what figure I would put on my chill-out minutes. I wind up my conversation with Matty as I suddenly realise I’m paying for our chat. Before I leave he invites me to visit the Ziferblat Manchester in the Northern Quarter. I tell him I might check it out. When I’m not late for a very important date….