An independently run coffee shop has just opened its doors in a small city Neighborhood. A few weeks after opening its doors, its owners posted a message to an online neighborhood message board addressed to its new neighbors. In the message, they indicated that on some days they have bagels, sandwich bread, and pastries left over at the end of the day.
"We wanted to see if anyone knows of families in the neighborhood who would want to take home what we don't use at the end of the day," the owners wrote. They asked that recommendations be emailed directly to the owners.
Neighbors began posting responses to the query almost immediately. Some offered suggestions. Others indicated that there are some city board of health restrictions that keep restaurant owners from donating extra goods to shelters or food pantries.
But one Reader of the column wrote me asking if it would be wrong to ask the cafe owners if, rather than a neighborhood family, it would be appropriate for the food to go to clinicians who work at a local neighborhood clinic.
"If they're giving away the bread and pastry at the end of the day, could I just go in there and take it to be consumed the next day by the clinicians I work with?" she asks. Sometimes the Baked Goods might be consumed by the clients seen by the clinicians, she explains. "But sometimes we might eat them ourselves at our group meetings."
Given that the clinic is on a tight budget, the reader believes that finding a free source for food that they usually have to purchase could let them use the funds saved to cover other costs.
There seem to be two questions were raised by the reader. The first is whether it would be appropriate for her to ask for the baked goods for her clinical group even though the cafe owner specified families in the neighborhood. The second is whether she can simply go to the cafe and say she is picking them up for herself even though she knows she will be bringing them to the clinic to be used there.
To the second question first. No, it would not be right to misrepresent whom she is picking up the baked goods for. That would be dishonest and misleading. Plus, there's no reason beyond having to explain a bit about why she wants the goods for lying or misleading.
To the first question, yes, it's appropriate to ask the owners if they might be willing to donate the goods to the clinicians at the local clinic. While the owners specified families, the reader would be crossing no ethical lines by asking if the owners might be willing to broaden their target for the donated goods.
The right thing is for the reader to contact the owners, thank them for their generosity, let them know what she has in mind, and then wait for their response. And the right thing for the owners is to choose to give the baked goods left over at the end of each day to whatever family or group it sees fit as long as it complies with all city health codes.
Jeffrey L. Seglin, author of The Simple Art of Business Etiquette: How to Rise to the Top by Playing Nice, is a senior lecturer in public policy and director of the communications program at Harvard's Kennedy School. He is also the administrator of www.jeffreyseglin.com, a blog focused on ethical issues.
Do you have ethical questions that you need answered? Send them to [email protected]
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