Conventional wisdom says pricing is one of the most important profit factors in any restaurant endeavor. Sure, limited menus, service, and reputation matter, but in the food and beverage business, margins count more than just about anything. You have a certain number you need to hit, on average, per table per meal, to stay profitable … and to keep your servers happy. Yep, that’s the conventional wisdom.
But there’s one place down in Florida (of course) turning that standard policy inside out. At Mosaics Community Café, patrons “pay what they can.”
Founder Libbie Combee said she has always lived by the adage that it’s better to give than to receive. Her restaurant’s menu doesn’t have prices, it has suggested donation amounts instead. Patrons pay that amount or, if they don’t have the cash, they can volunteer for an hour to earn a token paying for their food. Combee says this option is because “it’s kind of degrading a lot of times when people that are in need are just given a free handout.”
Another option: buying tokens for others who don’t have cash or time. Combee explains: “We have folks who want to give back to their community, not necessarily have the time to volunteer.”
It may not sound like the most healthy way to run a restaurant, but, so far, Mosaics is thriving. Patrons love the concept, and the unique approach to restaurant profitability draws huge attention, both locally and nationally. You can buy that kind of PR, but it comes at a massive cost.
Is this sort of guerilla public relations a gamble? Sure, but it’s a gamble that can pay huge dividends. Combee set some boundaries to protect her investment. There may not be prices on the menu items, but there are suggested donations. This gives diners an idea of what items are worth. In any donation situation, establishing a baseline of worth is a vital protective step. It creates expectation and understanding where it otherwise would not exist.
That step, creating expectation and establishing value, is essential communication in any consumer PR exchange. If your customer establishes a perceived value outside your scope of established value, that could lead to a negative customer experience. That’s the danger Combee could have faced had she chosen not to establish expectations. In doing so, she sets expectations without making demands. It’s a unique approach allowing the consumer more perceived power in the transaction, a scenario that, when it works, can pay off huge.