Politics Aside, Americans’ Shared Empathy Is Palpable in Cafes and Restaurants

Despite polarized political rhetoric, we can rest assured that Americans are still very much united in supporting each other. While both parties in Washington work tirelessly over the coming months to reestablish synergy, the country's shared consciousness can be seen in every local cafe and restaurant across the nation. 

Jordan Blashek and Christopher Haugh, co-authors of “Union: A Democrat, a Republican, and a Search for Common Ground,” explained it brilliantly. After traveling together across 44 states and almost 20,000 miles in 2020, their joint conclusion was: Americans are more empathetic and less dogmatic than we would believe.

In return for dedicated customer loyalty, local joints have become much more meaningful to people during these challenging times.

Americans can’t eradicate the macro problem, which is the devastating and continuous financial bleeding that Covid is causing on local small businesses and restaurants. However, they are deeply committed to doing their part by keeping beloved local spots alive. 

A recent survey indicates that people are eager to contribute to their communities and do their part to keep these vital product and service providers open for business.  Those who purchased less than 25 percent at nearby stores have increased spending at those locations by 15 percent.  Consumers want their local businesses to succeed!  

2020 was the year we saw individuals put the federal government to shame with their quick turn-around nonprofit launches, supporting local eateries. For example, New Orleans' Feed the Front Line’ continues to cleverly support restaurants, musicians, artists, and hospital workers caring for those impacted by COVID-19. 

In return for dedicated customer loyalty, local joints have become much more meaningful to people during these challenging times. In short, they understand and invest in their customers – as opposed to larger counterpart chains.  Local establishments focus on both the practical and the psychological needs of their consumers during a quarantine.

Those who manage to plow through this crisis seem to truly represent real Americana by offering what we all need right now – daily doses of community and pure inclusivity. In more practical terms, they all provide the following "ingredients" to achieve that goal:

1. Barista Therapy Replacing Bartender Therapy: Beyond offering practical ‘Covid Friendly’ contactless payments and delivery, cafes, coffee shops, and restaurants continue to play a vital role in providing a reprieve from isolation at home. Everyone can agree how exciting it is to walk into a restaurant now, even if it’s to pick up an order and chat with the friendly staff. That small amount of human interaction is going a long way these days.

2. Generously Reward Customer Loyalty:  A loyal customer spends up to 67 percent more than a new customer. By instituting or increasing customer loyalty programs and catering to those known for sitting at Table 6 every Wednesday, restaurants boost revenue by showing them their appreciation for being regulars.  It’s a win-win for both parties. Customers are rewarded with constant loyalty incentives during this pandemic, such as instant rewards like extra drinks or desserts, and these establishments increase profit in return.

3. Responding to Tighter Wallets: Since local eateries understand their customers intimately, they know most can’t exactly afford to frequent the stores anymore. In response, many have introduced lower-priced menus, moving from high-end steak houses to bistros or even those who are giving out free food.

Take a look at New Jersey’s Humble Toast owner, Chef Yehudiel, who shifted his efforts to help the community. Since late March 2020, Yehudiel has been sending meals to families who can’t afford to eat. His efforts landed him amongst the 400 people across the country who were nominated for an Unsung Hero award. 

4. Use Logic to Solve Safety: While back in the early days, it was nearly impossible to find chain-store restaurants open, smaller and localized counterparts reacted quicker when it came to safety. In turn, that continues to keep drawing people in as they feel safe with these customized and smart responses. For example, by April of 2020, local eateries in Williamsburg, New York, offered contactless payment and pick-ups outside, moving things quickly and safely. Special applause for Doughnut Plant!  And in the heart of Hackensack Hospital neighborhood of New Jersey, Bite cafe understands its healthcare workers need a safe place to sit and relax during the crisis. Hence, they creatively developed a store design with living room spaces and social distancing in mind.

Ted Khammanyvong at Bite Café in Hackensack.

Whether it’s buying light bulbs from the local hardware store instead of a big box store or paying an extra dollar for coffee at the corner shop, Americans continue to have each other’s backs. It’s simple; all it takes is a mental shift from obsessing over the debilitating bi-partisan rhetoric to recognizing the actual reality of the country’s shared empathy.