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No need to be a regular: a new cafe in Harajuku treats all customers like friends

A Tokyo cafe that opened in April 2023 wants every customer to feel like they're among friends. Known as Tomodachiga Yatteru Cafe (TYC) or 'Cafe Run By Friends', it serves coffee by day and cocktails by night. The idea is for customers to have the experience of dropping by a shop or bar where a friend works part-time. Staff members talk to patrons as if they've known them for years, greeting them with an "It's been a while!" and asking, "How's your mom doing?"

The part-time bit is true: the cafe's employees are also actors and models. And the intimate ambiance extends to the menu, which lists sentences instead of standard drink names, prompting people to order "The same thing as last time," or "Is this what you were talking about?" One customer expressed, "It felt like I was talking to a friend even when I was ordering."

With a single, long table seating around twenty people, the cafe encourages social interaction not just with staff but also among customers. Instagram user @poooooodle30 observed, "Even though I went alone, it was fun to talk to my 'friends,' and I ended up chatting with strangers who sat next to me." After all, they said, "A friend of a friend is a friend 🤝"

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Loneliness and social isolation are widespread, and young adults seem particularly susceptible. By taking regular server-to-customer communications and pushing them into friendship mode, Tomodachiga Yatteru Cafe provides an alternative way of interacting with strangers. Like a crash course in sociability for people who are out of practice after pandemic restrictions and overloading on screen time. It might be a little weird and awkward at first, but customers seem delighted by the experience.

Social connection is essential to the health and well-being of individuals and society, and businesses can play a role in fostering contact and community. Want to pitch in? Rethink how your employees connect with customers and create environments that prioritize and facilitate human interaction. And, like TYC, keep it fun and light — the loneliness epidemic is serious, but the most effective solutions might be playful and surprising.

Related: Dutch supermarket Jumbo designates 200 cash registers for checkout chats

Innovation of the day

Spotted by: Liesbeth den Toom