The past three weeks I’ve been playing some variation on letting people pay whatever they want to. The first week I told customers they could pay me however much they thought it was worth. I removed the tip jar and put a question mark on the menu board in the place of the price. Many folks asked how much it usually cost and I told them I wasn’t allowed to tell. I recorded how much they paid by chalking up tally marks next the prices per slice 3, 4, 5, 6 … I was surprised that I had to add 7, 8 and 9. Although I did have a few outliers in those high and low, most people handed me a $5 bill and didn’t ask for change back.
The next week I also let people pay however much they would like, but this time it was a secret to me. I had them take a fresh envelope out of the box and enclose their payment. This time they could truly pay whatever they wanted without the social pressure of me staring them in the eye. If they needed change they could hand me the large bill and I would break it so I still wouldn’t know how much they were contributing. The full envelope went into the second box and they went on their merry way. After the service was over I took the box back and tallied the amount in each one. My mistake was that I didn’t have the customers write how many slices they were paying for. If an envelope had six dollars, is that for one slice or two? I do know that I made the same number of servings from this week to the last. Unfortunately, the data for this weeks is not as solid as the previous week.
The third week I repeated the same envelope experiment. This time I had customers report the number of slices on the outside of the envelope. Also, I explained to each person that all proceeds of the cart for this day would benefit The Trust for the National Mall in Washington, DC. I wanted to see if this would raise the median amount per person.
Why this nonprofit? It is the recommended charity for the Rally to Restore Sanity coming up in two weeks which I am lucky enough to be attending. It seemed like a good choice because it is a politically neutral charity that presumably is acceptable to a large majority of people.
Side note: The two weeks of envelope experiments had a super wonderful side effect of me not touching the money very much. I only needed to break bills for a handful of folks. This allowed me to not have to switch back and forth between needing clean hands to cut pie and then handling money. I could ditch the plastic gloves. Yay! It also dramatically speeded the transaction, definitely a good thing since I’ve had mad long lines lately.
First week: payment is public
Second week: payment is private
Third week: payment is private, proceeds go to charity