A young teacher, nervous about his first day in the classroom, looks around a neighborhood Starbucks store after placing an order for a tall latte. All the tables are occupied, but there are a few open seats.
Not wanting to violate anyone’s personal space, he’s reluctant to simply find a spot and sit down. But it would be nice to have someone to talk with to ease his worries for a moment. He scans the room and looks for a welcoming sign from another customer.
In an Ohio Starbucks store, there actually is a sign.
At a time when friendly gestures are often extended through social media channels, this Hudson, Ohio Starbucks store is offering a way to be social that’s about old fashioned face-to-face interaction.
As customers prepare to make their purchases they come across colorful cards displayed on the wall next to the pastry case. Each hand-printed card extends an invitation to share a table and conversation. Customers have the option to pick up and post the offer on their tables if they're interested.
The signs were inspired by a frequent customer who had seen something similar at another café, according to store manager Nahum Preston. Earlier this year, the customer mentioned the idea to barista Rachael Bresnan. When she told Preston, he asked her to come up with a concept of how it could work in their Starbucks® store.
“She came up with cards you put on the table that say: ‘I have extra room at my table. Would you like to share it with me?’ We put a little piece of Velcro on every table so you could stick one of those cards on the table if you’d like to share your table with another person,” Preston said.
Hudson is a small city with a population of just over 22,000, but there are 20 higher-learning institutions within 20 miles, including Kent State University and the University of Akron, both of which have enrollments of over 20,000. Preston said the coffeehouse fills up in the late afternoon and early evenings as students and workers flood in. Sometimes seating is scarce.
Preston said while plenty of customers prefer to maintain their own private space, others like the idea of sharing a conversation – or simply a spot at their table – with fellow Starbucks patrons.
"Many people come up to us and say, ‘I really appreciate what you are doing,’” said store manager Nahum Preston. “Or, ‘I was able to sit with someone I didn’t know and talk to them a little bit and get to know them a little bit better.’”
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