Sunday, November 15, 2020

Applause for restaurants' efforts to feed poll volunteers and fuel democracy

My son and daughter each volunteered to work shifts at polling places on Election Day. My son pulled a 16-hour shift at a polling place outside of Richmond, Virginia, and my daughter put in 12 hours just south of Boston. Each reported a steady stream of voters and minimal issues (a request for a mask to be worn here, an ask to remove a campaign hat there). I am proud of them and appreciate the hundreds of other volunteer poll workers around the country who put in the time to ensure that, as my son says, "democracy wins."

Up in Massachusetts, the poll workers were offered via Twitter a free bowl or pita from Cava, a cafe chain with restaurants in Texas, Southern California, and the East Coast. The day before the election, Cava tweeted: "Let's hear it for poll workers! To say thanks this #ElectionDay, we're offering a free bowl or pita to poll workers when they show a badge at all locations."

A kind offer. The only problem was that many volunteers wouldn't be able to avail themselves of the Election Day offer because they were working from dawn to dusk. What's the right thing to do when a generous offer to recognize good works doesn't quite succeed at distributing the intended reward?

In the case of Cava's slightly misguided poll worker incentive, the response tweets came immediately, including this one from my son-in-law: "Dear @cava, how about offering this to #pollworkers for the day AFTER the #election, when they're not working 14-hour shifts and may actually have time to get to your restaurants?"

Within an hour, Cava responded, thanking him for raising the issue and tweeting: "Our offer lasts through Friday at 10pm when our restaurants close."

Problem solved, you'd think. Not so quick. Many poll workers, including my daughter, weren't allowed to keep their badges so they couldn't flash them when they went to pick up the meal. More tweets ensued to point out the snag.

Cava tweeted back. "We will make this work for all poll workers ... We are happy to accept any form of verification, including name tag or the official polling assignment from the Board of Elections."

That took care of it and over the next few days tweets with thanks to Cava, some accompanied by photos of meals, were posted. Amanda from Washington D.C.'s bowl sitting next to her board of elections assignment letter looked particularly tasty.

Cava didn't care what party poll workers belonged to. It didn't care in what location they were volunteering. It saw the opportunity to offer thanks to those who went above and beyond to perform their civic duty. And when its offer went slightly awry, it moved swiftly to do the right thing and make sure the overture was a fulfilling gesture.

Other restaurants also stepped up to do what they could to encourage volunteers and voters. An effort called "Pizza to the Polls" delivered more than 16,000 free pizzas to voters waiting in lines to vote. It too didn't take into account what political party the recipients belonged to. A pizza doesn't care if you are Republican, Democrat, Libertarian, Independent or any other party. In a nation that seems strongly divided politically, it's good to know that there are a few things that still unite people: food and recognizing those who worked hard to keep democracy alive. 

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, a blog focused on ethical issues.

Do you have ethical questions that you need answered? Send them to 

Follow him on Twitter @jseglin. 


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