Trust-based payment system not working out well for restaurant

Updated: 2013-12-04 00:17

By Sun Li and Hu Meidong in Fuzhou (China Daily)

  Print Mail Large Medium  Small 分享按钮 0

The owner of a self-service restaurant in Fujian province 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 ($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 honor 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."

Regular patrons were generally positive about their experience of the restaurant.

"Paying is based on the trust, so is washing the plates," said Yang Xiuqin, who lives nearby and visits almost every day. "You ought to wash them well so other customers won't worry about hygiene."

Bank worker Feng Wei said eating there teaches her 6-year-old son a valuable lesson. "He will learn to be honest and pay for what he takes, even though no one asks him to," she said.

In 2002, a pizza shop in Shenzhen, Guangdong province, that allowed customers to pay what they wanted shut down after three days because people, on average, handed over less than 10 percent of the cost of making the food.

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."