Chinese Restaurant Allows Patrons to Pay What They Want, Is Obviously Losing Money

A small, self-service restaurant in China’s Fujian province runs on a unique concept – no bills! The owner expects diners to pay whatever they think is the true price of the meal. Predictably, many people don’t pay anything at all.

The restaurant, called Five Loaves and Two Fish, opened this August in downtown Fuzhou. It is named after the story of Jesus feeding 5,000 people by multiplying fish and bread. Patrons are required to wash their own plates and bowls after eating, and place money in a drop-box before leaving.

50-year-old interior designer Liu Pengfei, the majority investor, said he got the idea for the restaurant after heard about the ‘suspended meals’ projects in some countries. These projects allow people to pay in advance for a beverage or meal, for someone who really needs it. “Hearing about it, I was deeply moved,” Liu said. “I felt a heartwarming sense of trust because of it.” And that’s the concept Five Loaves is based on – trust.

While the concept sounds really amazing, things aren’t exactly going as expected for Liu and his team. According to Peng Yong, chef and co-investor, around 20 percent of diners walk out without paying anything. The restaurant has been running losses – 250,000 yuan ($41,170) – even though it is packed every day. Just maintaining the place, which is located in a central location, costs 60,000 yuan a month.


Photo: Flickr

Liu doesn’t understand how people could walk out without paying for what they ate. “It doesn’t mean you can eat and drink for free, you just pay what you like,” he said. “The box is transparent, so no one will know how much you paid. If you have the nerve, you can just walk away and pay no money.” Apparently, a lot of people have the nerve. Liu has a plan for dealing with such people – he wants to chat with them and ask them to explain their behavior. “They can tell me they don’t have enough money. That’s fine. But paying nothing and saying nothing is totally different. Honesty is the first step to building trust.”

It’s amazing how Liu is still optimistic about his business. He’s actually surprised it has lasted so long. “We initially expected the restaurant to stay open for two months, and now it has lasted three. The losses are not unbearable,” he said.

In fact, Five Loaves has regular patrons who admire the concept. Bank worker Feng Wei likes to take her 6-year-old son there to teach him a valuable lesson. “He will learn to be honest and pay for what he takes, even though no one asks him to,” she said.


Photo: Dave Dugdale/Flickr

According to Gan Mantang, a sociologist at Fuzhou University, Five Loaves and Two Fish is an experiment in sociology. He did suggest a display of price lists, because diners might be underestimating the cost of what they eat.

Liu doesn’t seem to be minding the losses at all. He wants to keep the restaurant going for as long as he can. “I want to continue, as I believe the feeling of trust is contagious.” Well, I think it’s a wonderful concept; I hope people will come around eventually and help to keep it running.

Source: China Daily