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."