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How much for the meal? It’s for you to decide

world Updated: Feb 23, 2009 00:46 IST
Vijay Dutt
Vijay Dutt
Hindustan Times
Highlight Story

You eat, you pay what you think is worth. This at the Little Bay restaurant in London’s Farringdon.

If you say the proposition seems a tad too dicey, especially during the ongoing global economic downturn… well, you’d perhaps end up eating your own words.

Prices on the menu have been erased. The scrawl on a blackboard reads: “Just pay us what you think it’s (the food and service) worth”. No bills have been presented since February.

Yet, the Little Bay is teeming with people. Packed to capacity, the manager was seen turning away customers who had not reserved.

“If things keep going, I may extend the offer (of no bills),” says Owner, Peter Iliac.

“It’s entirely up to each customer whether they give £100 or a penny. It just seemed the right thing to do with everyone under the cosh and feeling pretty miserable,” said Iliac, adding that the restaurant is well known for serving great food at competitive prices.

Iliac has gambled on what psychologists call ‘a game of chicken’ — how little can you pay without losing self-respect and not wanting to creep out pink-faced?

The gamble is paying off. In one week, Iliac said over 2,000 covers had been laid. “I did not have the capacity to do anymore.” His turnover has doubled, despite a reduced profit margin.

Payments by customers give a glimpse into their psyche. Those in groups behave like “meanies”, as there is no individual shame in paying little for meals partaken heartily.

A pair of civil servants left £44 for a meal that would cost, as per menu prices, at least £10 less. They said they wanted to pay what they thought the meal was worth.

The lowest payment was of 2 pence, by a group of students. But they only had water, and possibly came just for fun. Another group of University students left without eating. They said they had come with the idea of not paying at all but then chickened out.

Business acumen with a dash of customer psychology thrown in makes for a lucrative recipe, it seems.

Vijay Dutt, UK Correspondent, in London

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