Mon, 31 Mar 2003

Meetings in cafes? Why not?

Many Indonesians believe that discussions are more productive and will be more satisfactory to all parties concerned when they are held after a delicious meal. Probably, that is why almost all meetings -- business or otherwise -- include sumptuous meals.

Quite a number of restaurants and cafes in Indonesia's major cities see this as a business opportunity. Hence, multifunction rooms for all kinds of meetings and gatherings -- locally referred to as VIP or private rooms -- came into existence.

"In my view, this trend has grown further since the early 1990s. We grabbed the opportunity and made private rooms available in our restaurant -- Kafe Museum -- and as you can see, each is always occupied by one meeting or another seven days a week," said the cafe's manager, Rafei Tirtaatmadja. The cafe is located next to the historic Fatahilah Museum in North Jakarta.

Private rooms in restaurants and cafes are certainly smaller than the huge multifunction rooms in hotels, with their capacity normally being between 10 and 60 people.

On working days, business executives use the private rooms in the afternoon, while in the evenings they are used mostly by the staff members and managers of organizations.

"We often conduct our meetings in the private rooms of cafes as they are strategically located and everybody can easily reach these places. With good food, live music, proper meeting facilities, I think meetings in such places are more relaxed," said RTS Masli, chairman of the Indonesian Association of Advertising Agencies.

Other social groups, like the wives of foreign diplomats and housewives from upper-income residential estates, often use private rooms at weekends for arisan (regular private lotteries usually organized by groups of women). "Once I saw an arisan where each woman contributed one thousand dollars," said Rafei, the manager of Kafe Museum.

To use the private rooms, each restaurant has a different policy. Some levy an extra charge, some require a minimum order, while in others one has to order the special package menu. TC Square and Riva Bistro & Bar, however, do not apply any extra charges, while at Xin Hwa Szechuan restaurant, their special package menu has to be ordered. Aoki restaurant requires a minimum order. "For a group of four persons, for example, the minimum order is Rp 200,000 (about US$23)," said Yani, the manager of Aoki restaurant.

As many meetings in restaurants and cafes are informal, usually only basic stationery, including a whiteboard, is made available. For other equipment, such as overhead projectors, computers and televisions, there is normally an extra charge.

"For the use of private rooms, a reservation is necessary so that we can prepare everything to the satisfaction of our customers," said Elvie, the manager of Shang Palace restaurant.

Instead of the hassle of holding a meeting in your office, including the trouble of preparing meals or ordering a caterer to take care of them, using the private rooms of restaurants and cafes is certainly a more practical choice. The fact that the relaxing ambience renders the meetings or gatherings more productive is another important reason behind the flourishing private room business. -- Ari Darmawan