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This month, UK café chain Costa Coffee partnered with The Chatty Cafe Scheme to launch ‘chatter and natter’ tables at 25 outlets across the country. A sign on each of the tables indicates that customers sitting there are happy to chat. The aim is to provide a safe space for cafe-goers – particularly those struggling with loneliness – to strike up a conversation with a stranger.

A simple innovation, sure; but one that taps into some deep-running forces. Around one in 20 UK adults say they are often lonely, and while elderly people are affected the problem seems most common among young adults. Meanwhile, evidence of a loneliness epidemic in the UK echoes that in other affluent countries. Rising urbanization is part of the picture; big cities can be lonely places. And don’t forget recent evidence that social media use can increase feelings of loneliness.

Placed in that context, the potential for ‘chatter and natter’ tables to help tackle a real and widespread social issue becomes clear: imagine if they were deployed at all 3,000+ Costa Coffee outlets worldwide. The broader lessons here? First, a powerful and purposeful innovation can be as simple as a sign on a coffee table. Second, as ‘swipe right’, urbanized, and ageing societies continue to evolve, the basic need for face-to-face human connection is going nowhere. So how can you innovate – in your own physical spaces or shared spaces – to bring your customers together in new, beneficial and enjoyable ways?

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