Pay-What-You-Want Restaurants: Do They Really Work?

panera logoThe country's newest pay-what-you-want restaurant is a cafe run by Panera Bread located in a suburb of St. Louis. The concept is simple: Customers choose what they pay for their meal. But there are plenty of skeptics -- including this writer! -- wondering whether this good will model will actually work.


Owners hope that diners will take the "suggested prices" seriously and leave their fair share for the food. And, if customers are for some reason unable to pay, that's okay, too (although, repeat non-payers may be asked to volunteer at the restaurant).

Interestingly enough, turning a profit is not the primary goal at the majority of pay-what-you-want restaurants, which are springing up across the country. Instead, proprietors hope to recoup costs while providing a basic service to the community; and, if there's money left over, ideally it would go to help needy people by feeding them or giving them jobs.

If there's money left over??? I love the intention behind these establishments but I just don't understand how they'll break even let alone have money left over.

Maybe I'm a Debbie Downer, but I just don't see enough people consistently paying the equivalent of or more than the suggested prices -- which is what these places would need to compensate for the number of customers who don't pay.

Personally, I would feel pressure to pay MORE than the suggested prices -- which is fine with me: If I can afford the luxury of eating out, I don't mind helping others get a meal they really need. However, I wouldn't have any idea how much more I should pay; in fact, not having a set price would stress me out and make me really conflicted and self-conscious. Honestly, I'd probably just avoid this place altogether.

What do you think about pay-what-you-want restaurants? Would you pay the suggested price?

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