Help with "pay what you can" Concept
April 27, 2008 3:13 PM   Subscribe

I am researching the growing occurence of pay-what-you-can, or pay-what-you-think-the-meal-was-worth restaurants. There are several operating both domestically and internationally, as explained here. In light of the Radiohead giveaway, the concept has been getting increasing, positive press.

Does anybody know of any other restaurants (or any other retail operation, for that matter), either functioning or defunct, that did something similar; let people pay what they think a meal is worth, or pay according to the size of their portions, or let people volunteer for part or all of the cost of their meal? Those currently existing all tout a community building role and highlight how their clientel cuts across all socioeconomic lines. If that is true, and these places come close to a non class stratified atmosphere, I also want to know if there is any religious or philosophical tradition in any culture where a small group within a community gives away its goods or services for the betterment of the larger community - a sort of "Tragedy of the Commons" in reverse. There is a lot of economic theory and prognosticating as to how it can't work, but the whole movement seems to be defying commom wisdom. Over and over, the media says the current credit markets, for example, are frozen because of a lack of trust, whereas this concept seems to be based on trust. Is it a fad, or could pay-as-you-can be the beginning of a new way people transact business in a more mutually trustworthy way?
posted by CollectiveMind to Society & Culture (12 answers total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
Freakonomics devoted an entire chapter to a pay-what-you-want bagel service.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 3:20 PM on April 27, 2008

Here in Denver we have SAME (So All May Eat). I haven't tried it myself, but I keep hearing how successful it has been. It's a pretty fascinating phenomenon.
posted by yalestar at 3:33 PM on April 27, 2008

There was a piece on NPR a few weeks ago about a Seattle coffee shop that is "pay what you want."
posted by donajo at 3:36 PM on April 27, 2008

Not a restaurant, but Paste magazine is doing "pay what you want" subscriptions and renewals.

Here's an article from the magazine about the first time they did this promo, in October of last year.
posted by amarynth at 4:35 PM on April 27, 2008

Does anybody know of any other restaurants (or any other retail operation, for that matter), either functioning or defunct, that did something similar; let people pay what they think a meal is worth, or pay according to the size of their portions, or let people volunteer for part or all of the cost of their meal?

I don't know if this phenomenon is really growing or shrinking, I have a feeling that there are a few restaurants that have been doing this off and on for years, and it is only the existence of an article about it that makes it seem like it is growing. In santa cruz, Malabar has been doing this on Sundays for at least 5 years I think. (Actually I'm not sure if they still do it, I haven't been in there on a sunday in a while.)
posted by advil at 4:59 PM on April 27, 2008

This on-topic article was in last month's Budget Travel. It talks about cafes and restaurants in Seattle, Salt Lake City, Vienna, and Melbourne.
posted by the christopher hundreds at 5:34 PM on April 27, 2008

And looking at your tags, you've already seen the article or one that was cribbed from it or vice versa.
posted by the christopher hundreds at 5:35 PM on April 27, 2008

Paying according to the size of your portions is very common in Brazil, where restaurants called 'porkilos' are kind of the equivalent of the North American buffet, except they're precisely the opposite in terms of payment structure. You choose your foods from a variety of choices laid out buffet style and at the end, your plate is weighed and you're charged accordingly.
posted by jacquilynne at 6:13 PM on April 27, 2008

I've always wanted to run this kind of restaurant, FWIW. As a tax loss kind of thing, the pay-as-you-go concept works just fine. I suspect for the kind of thing I'd do people would overpay.
posted by unSane at 9:06 PM on April 27, 2008

San Francisco theatre group The Diggers, who were based in Haight-Ashbury in the late 1960s, had a number of free shops in the local neighbourhood. The shops were stocked with donated or reclaimed goods - including food - and "shoppers" were encouraged to take the merchandise for free. The Diggers also held free music festivals, gave away free food, and ran a free medical clinic.

They named themselves after the 17th century English egalitarians of the same name.

As for restaurants, I know only of Melbourne cafe Lentil As Anything. They make great vegetarian food, and like some of the other places mentioned above, have no set pricing; instead they ask you to pay whatever you feel it's worth. It's a great system, and I think it works well for them.
posted by hot soup girl at 5:05 AM on April 28, 2008

When I was in London in, um, 1987, there was a restaurant that operated on the "pay what you think it's worth" principle. It had some extremely generic name, like "That Place Around the Corner". It was north of Hampstead, maybe near Golder's Green?

I always, but always, spent more money than I intended to. I was a student, my friends were students, and we went with the intention of not paying much, given the student budgets we were living on. The food was really good, though, and I always felt compelled to pay more. The only strategy for successfully paying little was to not have the money on you. It seemed like the place did well, as it certainly stayed open. I have no idea if it's still there - perhaps some London mefites can find it.
posted by gingerbeer at 10:10 AM on April 28, 2008

This was the subject of a post on the Freakonomics blog today:

There are a few things worth thinking about when you read any given pay-as-you-wish story.

On the plus side, there’s the opportunity cost of not having to hire someone to work the cash register.

On the minus side, there’s the issue of “survivorship bias” — i.e., if you’re reading an article about a pay-as-you-wish business, it is inevitably a business that has managed to survive and perhaps even prosper; but don’t forget all the articles you’re not reading about such schemes that failed miserably. The particular incentives in any particular pay-as-you-wish scheme are what determine success or failure.

posted by the christopher hundreds at 11:46 AM on May 12, 2008

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