This Year’s Business Model: Restaurants Without Food

You may have read earlier stories on this blog about a pay-what-you-wish bakery in Canada, a pay-what-you-wish coffee shop in Washington state, and pay-what-you-wish granola at a Miami supermarket.

Here’s another pay-what-you-wish eating story, but in this case, you have to bring your own food. That’s right. On King Island in Tasmania, Australia, there’s an old boathouse that’s been converted into a rustic harborside restaurant where patrons cook their own meals. They leave behind money for the use of the building in an “honesty duck” — i.e., a box decorated with a toy duck.

“People really, really love the concept of trust and that’s to me half the reason why we’re running it, because I respond to that,” the proprietor Caroline Kininmonth told Eleanor Hall of The World Today. “It’s a very childlike feeling.”

There is nothing in the article about average payments. The real estate business being what it is versus the food business being what it is, and considering how much people love to cook, I wouldn’t be surprised if a restaurant without food is a lot more profitable than one with food. I recall that Cosmo Kramer once had a plan for a make-it-yourself pizzeria. Can anyone out there tell us about a setup similar to this Australian one in the U.S.?

(Hat tip: Chuck Falzone, via


There is a pay-what-you-wish wine-cellar in Berlin, you can drink so much as you wish and pay a "fair" price.


King Kone in Pittsfield, Massachusetts sells soft serve ice cream where a small is a large, a medium is bigger and a large is enormous and all are the same price.


That restaurant better be somewhere pretty scenic or something. I'd rather eat what I cook at home than go to some place.


to luca: are you being facetious? you must be, because if you honestly wanted to give someone money, just send them a check. it will get cashed.

unrelated: i will be opening a "restaurant" that lets customers go to the supermarket, go home and cook dinner, clean up, then feed me some of it. also they will give me money.


@4 and others,

Unfortunately we Aussies also have huge liability issues. It's not a big as the USA, but we're getting close.

There would probably be many issues involved with this, but I immagine that the owners of the place would be well aware of them.


I like the Dream Dinners. The ones in my area Massachusetts are now selling premade meals. You just stop buy and purchase straight out of the freezer! How convenient. I like my kitchen and cooking. I just dont like all the prep and mixing and dirty dishes. I call most of my meals the one pan wonder. It usually is only a half an hour or less until dinner is on the table.

Stephan Schwartz

It would be great if Freakonomics did a post about the changes happening on Facebook. Anyone at a university, or anyone in the general public, for that matter, is impacted by the changes made there.

Nad Vega

The whole thing kind of reminds me of Dan Ariely's social norms vs. market norms concept. Think money, and X dollars may be too high a price to pay for a meal. Think nice and friendly people you are so intimate with that you can even use their kitchen, and X dollars is no longer a payment, but rather a gift (since no amounts are mentioned), a token of gratitude to which different rules apply.


I wish the New York Times had a Pay-What-You-Wish policy. I really like the newspaper (I only read it online since I do not live in the USA), and I would like to support it financially, since I would be a) proud to be a supporter b) less guilty at reading it for free (it feels like getting into a newsstand, reading a magazine and then put it back without paying it). Stephen, why don't you suggest it to whoever can make it happen?


You just might have proven my best friend right. She said in general, men love to cook when danger is involved. The no-food restaurant more or less evolves around the same concept, with people flocking into the establishment simply because it's a novelty.

As a business model, though, it goes against the notion that as far as service providing goes, proprietors should keep in mind that all customers want convenience. Preparing your own food can be very, very inconvenient, neh?

R. Hasbani

Aren't many museums pay as you wish? IE don't many museums have a suggested donation price without any actual admission fee required? I wonder how these museums do.


I'm not sure I follow the latent obsession here with pay-what-you-wish eateries.

When I first went there 13 years ago, Paris' Chartier (on Rue de Faubourg in the 9th Arrondisement) posted "suggested prices" and you still got to barter with the waiter on what you thought everything was worth by tallying up the bill on their paper tablecloths. ("The filet? Not so good today -- 30 Francs.") They have reportedly been holding that practice for decades now.


"I recall that Cosmo Kramer once had a plan for a make-it-yourself pizzeria."

George: You can't just have people shoving their arms into 600 degree ovens.

Kramer: It'll all be supervised!

Quite possibly the best line ever from that show.


I would love a place like this, even at a fixed price. But (memo to aspiring entrepreneurs), I would be most likely to go if it included:

-Cleanup (love to cook, hate to clean)

-Communal herbs and spices (I don't mind buying meat and stuff, but as a single guy, it's hard to justify buying a thing of coriander or whatever to make one recipe and then never use it again)

I think this could work...


Yeah, I, like many others, would pass on such a restaurant. When I'm hungry for a shake or a pizza and I'm in my car? I generally don't want to do anything but eat a shake or a pizza, let alone go home and bring the ingredients. I'd rather buy a blender and do my own shakes, and make my own pizza in my own oven.

But yeah, whatever the Tasmanians do is their business. I don't think the business model will catch on with any kind of franchise in the US.

Chip Uni

There's similar in idea to Shabu-shabu, Korean barbecue and other "hot pot" restaurants on the West Coast:

There's a buffet of prepared but raw cuts of meat, vegetables, pasta, and other things. You sit at a table with a burner, a pot of just-under-boiling broth, and a foil-wrapped grill to put marinated meats.

You cook your soup (or grill your meats) at the table.


A marina here in town has something a little different. You show up in your boat with your own meat (chicken, fish, steaks, burgers, whatever...) and there is a dock bar with a couple of bartenders and a grill. They will cook your meat the way you want it and they work on tips. I think part of it is they know you'll sit there and have a drink or two...but it's nice.


Nobody here has been to a Korean barbecue place? You pay for the raw meat, then cook it on a small grill (at your table) to your liking.


I think Molly has a point about the enjoyment gained from gathering around the grill with a bunch of people - I think this relates to a growing desire from us in the Western World to rebuild our communities.

And we aren't going to do this in the traditional ways of church and service organisations - so it is through innovative use of the 'third spaces' in our lives that will help in this regards.

People will form new communities in these third spaces - so rather than just going to a restaurant and eating your dinner (which isn't bad in itself), people will look to ways in which they can (in this example) eat (and cook) dinner with others.


The pay what you wish coffee place in Kirkland, WA is no longer pay as you wish. Does anyone know if other pay as you wish places are keeping their model?