A plaque remaining from the Big Apple Night Club at West 135th Street and Seventh Avenue in Harlem.

Above, a 1934 plaque from the Big Apple Night Club at West 135th Street and Seventh Avenue in Harlem. Discarded as trash in 2006. Now a Popeye's fast food restaurant on Google Maps.

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Entry from March 14, 2009
Pay-What-You-Want (Pay-As-You-Wish)

The economic slump of 2007-2009 resulted in some restaurants not charging any set fees, but having customers on a “pay-what-you-want” basis. The concept is not new—Clifton’s Cafeterias in California operated on a similar basis in the 1960s. Some customers don’t like the concept, with extra stress added to figure out a fair bill. A few customers are cheapskates and don’t pay much, while others are grateful and pay generously.

The concept goes under several names:

. Pay-what-you-want.
. Pay-what-you-like.
. Pay-what-you-wish.
. Pay-what-you-can.
. Pay-as-you-want.
. Pay-as-you-like.
. Pay-as-you-wish.
. Pay-as-you-can.

Clifton’s Cafeterias - Downtown Los Angeles
Clifton’s continues to practice Clifford Clinton’s philosophy of treating customers as “guests” and employess as “associated” and still offers a guarantee of “Dine Free Unless Delighted.”

16 October 1960, Los Angeles (CA) Times, “Around Town with Joan Winchell,” pg. B24:
Clifton’s Cafeteria has a motto— “Pay What You Wish.”

27 December 1985, San Jose (CA) Mercury News, “Diner Gives Up No-Price Menu,” pg. 6C:
A born-again Christian who adopted a pay-what-you-want policy at his restaurant because “the Lord wanted this done” says he has bowed to public pressure and now charges for meals. ‘’From the day we started with no prices till the day we put them back, customers said they didn’t like it,” Jerry Juliano said. “They didn’t want to cheat me and felt uncomfortable.”

28 November 1990, Rocky Mountain News (Denver, CO), “Clifton’s Cafeteria Menu Is Down-Home Delicious” by Jane and Michael Stern:
“Pay what you wish, and dine free unless delighted.”
(Clifton’s Pacific Seas Cafeteria of Los Angeles, which Clifford Clinton, a restaurateur from San Francisco, opened in 1931—ed.)

Rocky Mountain News (Denver, CO)
Published on August 21, 1994.
In these hard-bitten, tight-fisted times, the Wandering Monk’s Guild and Bakery’s bountiful buffet of gourmet food is a heart-warming change - you pay whatever your heart believes your wallet can afford.

The idea, says the restaurant’s founder, Brother Denys Cormier, is to use donations made by diners to help subsidize a food kitchen that delivers meals to the homes of needy children.

Boston Area - Chowhound
Pay as you wish restaurant
My friend recently told me about a restaurant in the Boston area that doesn’t have fixed prices.
After finishing your meal, you decide how much you want to pay.
Apparently, the owner is making more this way than previously with fixed prices.
Sounds intriguing...have any of you heard of this restaurant and how the food is?
AN Nov 06, 2004 09:00AM

Yelp Berkeley
Namaste Restaurant, Berkeley - Pay what you want!
Ann L. says:
Just read about this restaurant Namaste in Berkeley where you can pay what you want..it’s now on my list to try.  Anyone been there yet?

Manhattan - Chowhound
Babu on McDougal
This pan-Indian restaurant was profiled today on NPR, more for the owner’s experiment of letting diners decide what they want to pay, than for their cuisine. The owner seemed quite proud that her menu offerings pushed the envelope far beyond most Indian places. The diners linked below seemed largely pleased, as well.
Shep Mar 17, 2005 06:38PM

Pan-Indian with the emphasis on the “Pan.”

FYI, according to a blurb in the Talk of the Town section in the March 21 issue of The New Yorker, the practice of “pay what you like” is now gone. prices have been added for all menu items.
John L. Mar 17, 2005 07:16PM

Springwise.com (Nivember 13, 2007)
Pay-as-you-wish restaurants
After featuring Paste magazine’s pay-what-you-want subscriptions last month, one of our Springspotters alerted us to a restaurant in Vienna where diners decide how much they’d like to pay. Located on the Liechtensteinstraße, Der Wiener Deewan serves five different Pakistani curries daily, three of which are vegetarian. Prices for drinks are fixed, but customers decide how much they’d like to pay for the food. Most pony up a fair price, and the restaurant doesn’t seem to suffer from its unusual pricing plan.

A bit of research shows that Der Wiener Deewan isn’t the only restaurant to take a laissez-faire approach to prices: Melbourne’s Lentil As Anything also lets customers pay what they can afford or what they think the meal was worth. The business now runs three locations in Melbourne and provides space for artists and writers. The One World Café in Salt Lake City and the SAME Café (So All Might Eat) in Denver operate on a similar basis, and also let customers specify portion sizes (which isn’t a bad idea for any restaurant).

Pay-what-you-like restaurants
By Anna Mantzaris
updated 10:45 a.m. EDT, Tue April 1, 2008
At Terra Bite Lounge (219 Kirkland Ave.) in the Seattle suburb of Kirkland, most diners slip cash into a donation slot by the barista, while others just walk away without bothering to pay.

“If I forget to bring enough money, I can just give more next time,” says real-estate consultant Tina Cooper, who stops at Terra Bite most mornings for what she claims is the best soy latte in the neighborhood.

“When we first opened, some people felt uncomfortable and didn’t come back,” says Terra Bite’s founder, Ervin Peretz. “But we now have regulars who put $20 into the slot every Friday for a week’s worth of joe.”

Discretion is certainly a theme of the pay-what-you-want trend. At Salt Lake City’s One World Everybody Eats (41 S. 300 East St.), you can deposit cash into a “treasure box” or use the customer-operated credit card machine.

Ask MetaFilter
Help with “pay what you can” Concept
April 27, 2008 3:13 PM
I am researching the growing occurence of pay-what-you-can, or pay-what-you-think-the-meal-was-worth restaurants. There are several operating both domestically and internationally, as explained here. In light of the Radiohead giveaway, the concept has been getting increasing, positive press.

Does anybody know of any other restaurants (or any other retail operation, for that matter), either functioning or defunct, that did something similar; let people pay what they think a meal is worth, or pay according to the size of their portions, or let people volunteer for part or all of the cost of their meal? Those currently existing all tout a community building role and highlight how their clientel cuts across all socioeconomic lines. If that is true, and these places come close to a non class stratified atmosphere, I also want to know if there is any religious or philosophical tradition in any culture where a small group within a community gives away its goods or services for the betterment of the larger community - a sort of “Tragedy of the Commons” in reverse. There is a lot of economic theory and prognosticating as to how it can’t work, but the whole movement seems to be defying commom wisdom. Over and over, the media says the current credit markets, for example, are frozen because of a lack of trust, whereas this concept seems to be based on trust. Is it a fad, or could pay-as-you-can be the beginning of a new way people transact business in a more mutually trustworthy way?
posted by CollectiveMind to society & culture

NYTimes.com: Freakonomics Blog
May 12, 2008, 10:11 am
Another Pay-as-You-Wish Success Story
By Stephen J. Dubner
We’ve written before about pay-as-you-wish commerce, most significantly the case of a bagel man in the Washington, D.C., area, but also a coffee shop in Seattle and three instances of pay-as-you-wish download-able music: Radiohead, Jane Siberry, and SongSlide.

Now here’s another baked-goods pay-as-you-wish scheme that’s worth looking at, concerning a bakery in Kitchener, Ontario, called City Cafe Bakery. Below is a good description from an article by Karen Hall in Bakers Journal (the “Voice of the Canadian Baking Industry”).

Chow - Food media (March 13, 2009)
Is Pay-What-You-Want the Next Recession Dining Trend?
The Wall Street Journal has posted a video segment about the Little Bay restaurant chain in London, which is now letting customers choose how much they want to pay for their meal.

It’s a clever way to get people in the door during a down economy, and it will be interesting to see if any other restaurants follow suit. Of course, Salt Lake City’s One World Café has been doing the pay-what-you-like thing since 2005. It also lets customers specify what portions they’d like, which seems like a brilliant idea even for restaurants with a more traditional “pay-what-we-ask” model. And then there’s the Hi-Life in Seattle which pegs the cost of its nightly specials to the closing price of the Dow—which means the more stocks fall, the better the bargain.

Posted by Barry Popik
New York CityFood/Drink • (1) Comments • Saturday, March 14, 2009 • Permalink