Friday, December 06, 2013

Chinese restaurant pays heavy price for trust-based payment system

The owner of a biblically-named self-service restaurant in Fujian province, China that trusts diners to pay what they want says he is running up a huge financial loss as many people opt to pay nothing at all. Five Loaves and Two Fish was opened in downtown Fuzhou in August, offering coffee, cakes and hot dishes. It has five round tables and six workers to cook and clean. Patrons are required to wash their own bowls and plates after eating, and then place money in one of two boxes in a corner.

"It doesn't mean you can eat and drink for free, you just pay what you like," majority investor Liu Pengfei said. "The box is not transparent, so no one will know how much you paid. If you have the nerve, you can just walk away and pay no money." It appears, however, that many do have the nerve. Despite being packed almost every day, he said the restaurant has so far lost 250,000 yuan (£25,000, $41,100). Peng Yong, another investor who also works as a chef, estimated about 20 percent of diners pay nothing. With its central location, the monthly running costs are 60,000 yuan, he said, while the average daily loss is about 2,000 yuan.

Liu, a 50-year-old interior designer, said the goal of the venture was to establish an honour system and encourage people to bring the virtue of trust back into their lives. The idea, he said, came from the "suspended meals" projects operated in some countries, which allow people to pay for an extra meal or coffee that is held in reserve for someone in need. "Hearing about it, I was deeply moved, and I felt a heartwarming sense of trust because of it," he said. He said the name for the restaurant comes from the biblical tale of Jesus feeding 5,000 people by multiplying fish and bread. Although they are losing money, Liu still sees a silver lining. "We initially expected the restaurant to stay open for two months, and now it has lasted three. The losses are not unbearable," he said.

He plans to chat with people who do not pay and encourage them to explain why. "They can tell me they don't have enough money, that's fine. But paying nothing and saying nothing is totally different," Liu said. "Honesty is the first step to building trust. In my eyes, those who don't pay are sick." Gan Mantang, a sociologist at Fuzhou University, called Five Loaves and Two Fish an experiment in idealism. He suggested it display a price list because the economic loss could be a result of diners underestimating the cost. Liu said he has no idea how long the restaurant will stay in business, but added: "I want to continue ... as I believe the feeling of trust is contagious."


Brixter said...

There's a stall in one corner of the philippines where they do the same thing but it works because:

- they're selling coffee, candies and other small items, so everyone can estimate how much they should pay.

- it's in a small island where almost everyone knows each other like family friends.

- they're a fishing/farming village, not yet corrupted like us in the big cities.

arbroath said...

There used to be a cafe in Oxford, England, run by a charming Rastafarian and his family that did a similar thing back in the 1980s.

I visited a couple of times and unfortunately it was the people who seemed to have the most money (i.e. rich arrogant students) that abused his hospitality most.

I believe one of those rich arrogant students is now the current British Prime Minister.

He hasn't changed.

Anonymous1 said...

This guy is very naïve in thinking people are going to pay for food if paying is an option. Two things need to happen... he needs to start requiring people to pay and secondly, ask for donations for the people who cannot pay.

Anonymous said...

Does he have suggested donations on his items? If he had signs saying, e.g., "It costs us Yx.xx to prepare this dish," he might do better.

That said, he deserves some praise for putting his money where his philosophy is.


Ratz said...

Arbroath: If that's the Hi-Lo in Oxford, it's still on the go. The owner will throw you out if you're not behaving as he sees fit.

I don't think it's doing the honesty thing anymore, but apparently David Cameron was a sufficient regular there he was trusted to take care of Hugh (Andy) Anderson (the owner's) son when the owner had to run off and serve people. Andy said that Cameron and he never talked politics, just music. I guess in the latter case, Cameron's been promoted to his level of incompetence. Probably would have made a better musician.

arbroath said...

That was the place, Ratz!

I couldn't remember the name of it.

My then girlfriend's brother was at college in Oxford at the time and we only visited on a couple of occasions.

I'm pleased it's still going. The owner was a lovely guy.

Unlike fat boy Dave.