A restaurant in the city of Fuzhou, China has a very special business model. No matter how much you order or eat, you get to decide how much to pay. Be it the full price or nothing at all, the restaurant does not make individuals pay a set price.
Liu Pengfei, the restaurant owner, being gravely concerned with the moral epidemic facing China these days, came up with the idea. By allowing people the choice to pay for their meal, the 50-year-old Liu wants to restore trust and morality amongst his customers. While we must commend Mr. Liu for his noble thinking, the reality is that his faith in humanity has landed him deep in the red.
The pay-what-you-want model is nothing new. Three years ago, the large restaurant chain Panera Bread attempted a similar model. One store stopped taking payments and asked customers to pay what they thought was fair. The main goal of the pay-what-you-want system was to provide assistance for individuals who didn’t have the money to afford a meal. The hope was that those that could afford to pay would cover the costs of non paying customers. The results were less than remarkable. Panera isn’t the only one that has tried this, though, as a number of other smaller restaurants around the United States have tried with varying results.
Mr. Liu’s restaurant, the “Good One,” opened in August of this year. It is a buffet that serves up a variety of Fuzhou style Chinese dishes in addition to other western themed foods. After customers finish their meals, they wash their own dishes and then have the difficult task of deciding how much to pay. Customers settle their bill by placing money into a box.
Unfortunately the results have been disastrous for Mr. Liu. According to investors of the restaurant, one in five customers don’t pay a single cent before returning home. In the first month the restaurant lost 100,000 yuan (US$16,440). This has led to a 250,000 yuan ($41,105) deficit since August.
Despite the building debt, Mr. Liu explained why he was committed to the pay-what-you-want model, stating, “The money isn’t the most important thing. It’s trust.” He added, “When I trust them [the customers], they will trust me and they will begin to love others.” Mr. Liu, a Christian, hopes his restaurant will have a positive affect on the Chinese people and encourage them to reevaluate their morals.
But Mr. Liu isn’t the only one who is concerned about China’s morality. In a Reuters report from September, Xi Jinping said he believes that China is “losing its moral compass.” Moreover, he is disturbed by his country’s vanishing morals and obsession with money. He sees a return to religion in order to remedy the growing crisis.
As for now, Mr. Liu still can’t figure out why some customers aren’t paying. He remarked, “It’s a little strange.” We can only hope the non-paying heathens have a spiritual revelation for the sake of Mr. Liu’s business.