Employee-Free Coffee Shop Trusts Customers to Pay for Their Order

‘The Vault’ in Valley City, North Dakota, serves coffee, tea and pastries, just like any other coffee shop. But here’s the difference: there’s no one there to do the serving! The owners have complete faith in the honesty of the people who walk through their doors, so they haven’t hired any employees.

“The Vault is self-serve,” declares the official website. “Everything is priced by hand, there are no price scanners. Just keep a track of your purchases and pay before you leave the counter area. There is a credit card reader and a deposit slot for checks and cash.” Customers simply walk in, make their own coffee, pay for it, and hang out for as long as they like.

It sure is a big gamble, but owners David Brekke and his wife Kimberly don’t seem to be too worried. When they opened the shop last October, it made complete sense to have people serve themselves and rely on the honor system. They have yet to break even, but that’s not because people are stealing.


“The thing that’s amazing is that people have been extremely honest,” said David. “When I add up how much has been taken and how much is in the till at the end of the day, people are 15 percent more generous than thieving.”

The lack of staff at The Vault is a real attraction for many customers who have now become regulars. There’s also the added advantage of a nice selection of books, two pianos, and artwork for sale. “It’s a great place to sit where it’s quiet and read and little by little there’s more and more people coming in all the time,” said LeRoy Triebold, a regular at The Vault. They even have a ‘Vault theater’ with a wall designed to double as a movie screen; you can watch a movie every Saturday at 7:30 pm, for only $3.


And the food is great too – they offer coffee via a professional brewer, with several syrup flavors and creamers. The other beverages include soda pop, hot cocoa, and apple cider. There’s a changing variety of unique baked goods, like creative cakes, frosted brownies, filled croissants and bars.

“It’s really very convenient to use,” said Madeline Luke, another customer. “I hope that they financially make it, but most people in town I think are pretty honest.” Valley City has a population of just over 6,000; it is a small community where everybody knows each other. So it’s not very likely that they’re going to steal in full view of other customers.

The act of paying on the honor system also makes people feel good about their honesty; it’s a great opportunity for self-affirmation. David, who spent 3.5 years converting the former bank into the coffee shop, didn’t realize how unique his concept was; he just thought it made sense. Later, he found out on the internet that there “really isn’t anything else like it”.

“Would an honor system coffee shop work anywhere?” asks the website. “Probably not,” is their answer. “The good people of Valley City make it possible.”

Incidentally, The Vault isn’t the only place in the world that relies on honesty; a few months ago, we wrote about a Chinese restaurant that allowed its patrons to decide the price of a meal and pay whatever they wanted. Needless to say, they didn’t make a lot of money.

Photos: The Vault/Facebook

Source: KVRR

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