Buying a Coffee for a Stranger -- An Open Letter to Howard Schultz


Dear Mr. Schultz,

I want to suggest a way you can improve your bottom line while giving your customers a chance to give.

There's a great article in the New York Times by Gaia Pianigiani this week about the tradition of buying a coffee for a stranger at the same time that you buy your own. They call it caffè sospeso or suspended coffee.

In some cafes, the staff post the receipts (see image above) so folks in need may claim one and drink a coffee without cost.

No doubt the free coffee will be welcomed by people who love java but for one reason or another don't have the dosh to buy one.

But I also like the opportunity it offers customers to become philanthropists. Every time they order a coffee, they can give one to somebody in need.

In Naples, as reported by the Times, people love this kind of giving:

"It's a simple, anonymous act of generosity." - Laura Cozzolino

"To me, the philosophy of the suspended coffee is that you are happy today, and you give a coffee to the world, as a present." - Luigi Solito

"Coffee consumption predated the unification of Italy by more than 200 years, so the rituals and traditions around it are very ancient... In Naples, coffee is a world in itself, both culturally and socially. Coffee is a ritual carried out in solidarity." -Andrea Illy, Chairman of Illy Coffee

The practice of buying "suspended coffees" has grown in popularity - with websites popping up and hundreds of cafes from Canada to Brazil to Hungary to the US offering the service.

So, Mr. Schultz, why not Starbucks?

Your staff regularly ask customers, "Can I get you anything else?"

What if they took a cue from the great American sport of basketball and said:

"And one?"

Imagine the satisfaction some of your customers will have in saying:

"And one!"

By offering people the chance to buy a suspended java you will double the good being done.

I know you find inspiration in Italian coffee traditions:

"In 1983, Howard traveled to Italy and became captivated with Italian coffee bars and the romance of the coffee experience. He had a vision to bring the Italian coffeehouse tradition to America. He wanted to create a place for human connection, conversation and one that fostered a sense of community - a third place between work and home."

Coffee, connection, conversation, community. It seems encouraging kindness to java-loving strangers would be a good fit for Starbucks.

Your call, of course.

I just want to take this opportunity to ask you, as the company's leader...

And one?

Cross-posted on Thinking Philanthropy.