Community Colors This Special Café

Articles
May 26, 2010

Community Colors This Special Café

We like to believe most people want to do the right thing consistently. But what should patrons make of a ‘pay what you want, the rest goes to feed the less privileged’ theme at a non-profit cafe opened by the former CEO of Panera Bread?

We like to believe most people want to do the right thing consistently. But what should patrons make of a ‘pay what you want, the rest goes to feed the less privileged’ theme at a non-profit cafe opened by the former CEO of Panera Bread?

Ron Shaich, who shepherded the Panera Bread chain’s growth to 1,400 stores over more than a 20-year span, is looking to fast-track charitable efforts, and is cutting his teeth on the Saint Louis Bread Company Cares Café.

He told USA Today, “I’m trying to find out what human nature is all about. It’s a fascinating psychological question. There’s no pressure on anyone to leave anything. But if no one left anything, we wouldn’t be open long.”  On its first two days open as a community café, “one-third of those who ate at the restaurant left more than the suggested retail price,” the paper reported.

The Lempert Report believes that to underscore community feelings as the recession persists, and as hard-working people still struggle, is a right idea for this time. People are sensitized to the plights of their neighbors. By paying more for your food, you can see tangible outcomes right in front of your eyes – people having a tough time affording a decent meal can have one through your good graces. That’s a lot different from the unseen benefits of distant charities or a cave-in to pressurized phone appeals when you can’t tell for sure where the money is going.

At the café, people who can’t pay are requested to donate time. People who can pay see what the real price is, and can pay that, or less, or more by credit card or by cash into a donation jar. If, as we believe, many people would like to help, we think prices on menu boards are important, so people can quickly calculate their meal budgets before the transactional moment. These budgets could account for an extra percentage donation that they feel comfortable leaving, depending on their generosity and resources that day.

We think this is a more artful, and a more personal way, to encourage giving than the common charity jars on restaurant and retail counters. It is also better than having a cashier hastily ask, “Would you like to donate $1 to x charity for our campaign this week,” when ringing up customers.

Food nourishes the body, and giving nourishes the soul. We’d like to see this experiment turn into a really big idea.