Over Board Café – Free Coffee Pivot

Published June 12, 2020
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Like thousands of businesses, Over Board Cafe in Perth was forced to close its doors and stand down most employees at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic. Watch how owner Clive Pickering’s free coffee pivot, quickly turned into a way to help his international staff.

Watch how they transformed and adapted during this time.


  • Over Board Café – Free Coffee Pivot

    “I’m sorry, guys. We have no trade. We have no revenue. I have no way of paying you.” And when you say that to people that have been working alongside you, it is the pits.

    I’m Clive Pickering of Over Board Cafe, in the beautiful Hillarys Boat Harbour in Perth. It’s a iconic part of the Boat Harbour at Perth. We’ve been here for five years. We have about 160 seats inside and 100 seats outside. It’s a very, very popular site for people and visitors to Perth.

    There was a market drop-off in February as we started to realize the enormity of this thing. Over the first two weeks of March, it really did become a very significant drop-off and that meant going from literally a much-reduced turnover down to nothing. In the summer, I normally have about 40, 42, 43 in total staff. And normally, half of those, give or take, will be international travelers.

    I had a meeting with the staff and we sat them all down, and we had to lay them off. Every single one was stood down and that was the worst day of my life. I can absolutely categorically say that it was the worst day of my life when I had to stand down all of my staff team. “I’m sorry, guys. We have no trade. We have no revenue. I have no way of paying you and I have no idea what you’re gonna do. But we’re all in this together and we’ll work away, but that’s about all I can say to you.” And when you say that to people that have been working alongside you, it is the pits.

    So, I’ve put a collection box in the cafe for customers, inviting them to donate food in the food bank style. And I’ve been inviting them to bring in something that we can share out amongst all our international visa holders. And I made a phone call to our fruit and veg supplier and he brought in a basket of fruit, and he started it off. And I now have a spread that’s ever-growing in tables down in the empty part at the cafe here, with contributions of fruit juice, of breakfast cereals, of flour, of sugar, of rice, of tacos, Further on down, we’ve got all sorts of jams and tins of all sorts of things going on down these tables that have been donated by customers. We came in this morning and just opened the doors and sitting at the front door was a bag of groceries that have been left by a customer.

    I’ve offered free coffee. Free coffee because I’m not making any profit from it and any proceeds from it. I want to pass all of the proceeds to the international visa holders. I invite people to pop something either in the tip jar or pop it onto their card, because 99% of the customers say, “No, no, no. I want to pay. I want to pay.” We say, “Okay, no problem at all.” You pay your normal price and all of the proceeds from that sale will go to the international visa holders.

    It’s been a worthwhile exercise to really demonstrate to people that the proceeds are going to the international visa holders. And slowly, one by one, I’ve been able to call them up and say, “Okay, we’ve got a plan. We can bring you back on board.” And that’s really very, very important for me.

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