Today, my good friend and colleague, Jeff Golenski, decided to have lunch with me at Barnes and Noble. We bought our teas from the Starbucks cafe in the bookstore and decided to “brown bag-it” for a healthier and cheaper lunch.

About 3 seconds into unpacking my sandwich, I was approached by a woman (I can only assume was the manager) telling me in somewhat of a rude manner:

“We are not a cafeteria or a library and we have a policy that outside food is not allowed in the cafe.”


I didn’t respond immediately, as I tend to think about my responses heavily before realeasing them into what can be a confrontational situation. Before I had a chance to speak, she was gone.

It’s interesting that this woman found our lunches on the cafe table to be a direct insult against her and the establishment. We didn’t attack her or come out of the gate with a rude attitude. In fact, neither Jeff nor I had an opportunity to speak. So why did she take it so personally? There were no signs or notes that gave us the impression that we were breaking a rule. We also made sure to purchase something from the cafe to honor the standard of which we have become accustomed to in our society.

In the end, we put away our lunches, finished our conversation and went back to the office to eat our food at our desks.

What’s the Angle?

I understand the impulse to turn or even push away anyone reaping the rewards of your establishment without paying homage through patronage. However, there was absolutely no way that Jeff or I were going to throw our prepared lunches in the trash, step up to the Starbucks counter and buy food.

The manager should have realized that there was no opportunity to turn us into lunch customers at that moment. She should have started looking for other ways to turn us into patrons and therefore, put more money in register.

How Could We Make This Better?

Imagine the manager as a real leader, someone who can see the big picture and all opportunities she had in front of her. To make this work she would had to have channeled some of the messsages from books like Linchpin or How to Win Friends and Influence People. She’d also have to start by not seeing our actions as an insult or take it as a personal attack.

A Good Approach

“Hello gentlemen, I really appreciate you coming into the bookstore today and I hope you’re enjoying your lunch. We usually don’t allow outside food in the cafe but I see you purchased some beverages from us. In this case, I’m going to let it slide. In the meantime, I’d like to see if I can interest you in some of our fine desserts which come straight from The Cheesecake Factory.”

This is a good message to send. You’re welcoming us into your “cafe community” and you’re building a relationship. You’re also opening the door to the only opportunity you have to increase revenue by showcasing the fine desserts you have available.

A Great Approach

“Hello gentlemen, I really appreciate you coming into the bookstore today and I hope you’re enjoying your lunch. We usually don’t allow outside food in the cafe but I see you have purchased some beverages from us. In this case, I’m going to let it slide. In the meantime, I’d like to offer you a 10% off coupon to enjoy lunch with us next time or possibly enjoy one of our fine desserts, which come straight from The Cheesecake Factory.”

WOW –  now I’m impressed. Not only does this version of the manager “get it,” but she is working to make us fans.

The Best Approach

“Hello gentlemen, I really appreciate you coming into the bookstore today and I hope you’re enjoying your lunch. I bet you didn’t know this, but we welcome outside food and love it when people come to the bookstore and cafe on their lunch breaks. I just wanted to let you know you’re more than welcome to return in the future. I know if I were you, I might be wondering ‘Is what we’re doing ok?’ Well, rest assured – it is.

I don’t want to take up anymore of your time, but if you have a moment, I invite you to come up to the counter and try some free samples of our delicious coffee and deserts. They will likely compliment your lunch nicely!

Have a great day!”

So this version probably involves us living in a parellel universe BUT it’s not impossible and can be done. In the area surrounding this Barnes & Noble, there are hundreds, if not thousands of businesses where employees take a lunch break. I have personally made a vow to only order take out or sit in a restaurant on my lunch break once a week, which means I’m packing a lunch and I’m likely not getting out of the office.

I know I’m not alone and would love have a place where I can eat a sensible meal, brought from home, in a fun environment like a bookstore. It’s a great opportunity for me to browse the book selections, read through a magazine or get some of my favorite coffee.

Now, imagine a place that welcomes “lunch breakers” with a comfortable haven, including wifi, seats, tables, and an opportunity to meet other people. I know we live in a world where we try our best to hide from physical contact, but this would be a great opportunity to get out of the daily rut, recharge and come back to work.

On top of that, you are increasing your revenue as the bookstore and cafe owners. The coffee sales alone would increase exponentially. The more the word gets out, the more visitors you would get – not to mention all the ancillary products. I cannot imagine the few sandwiches that are available for purchase make a significant impact on revenue.

At the end of the day, the only thing keeping this from working is the idea that a few Starbucks lunch packs or pre made sandwiches will somehow create enough revenue to overcome the growth that would come from having a nice lunch hangout for workers all over.

So in the end, I hope this is one more solution that will be listened to by “corporate,” so we can all live in a happier and oddly enough, more profitable world.

Let me know your thoughts!

Jesse Friedman has been building websites for 18 years, and exclusively with WordPress since 2006. Since then Jesse has written several books, taught 100’s of students as a professor, and organized dozens of local meetups along with a few WordCamps. Jesse has spoken at tech conferences around the world including SXSW, HOW, Future events and many more. Jesse has consulted for a wide array of companies from small agencies to multi-billion dollar international companies. Today Jesse is a proud team member of Jetpack at Automattic, where he spends his time growth hacking and building strategic partnerships.

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