There have been some drastic changes to one St. Louis Bread Company in Clayton. It's gone from regular restaurant to community experiment. It's going to operate on donations with patrons paying only what they can afford.
"You take what you need. You give what you can. And the bet we're making is on humanity. The bet we're making is enough people will come in, will give enough that this cafe can sustain," said Ron Shaich, Chairman of Panera Bread and creator of the Foundation.
And the prices are really just suggestions. And when you pay the money doesn't go in a cash register, it goes in a donation box.
Some people contribute more than the cost of their meal, which helps to offset those who pay less. And those who have nothing can offer to wipe tables for an hour.
The cafe itself is a non-profit and money raised will go to keep it running. Ultimately, there may also be training programs here for at-risk youth.
So...this place is not actually charging a set price for its products, but simply asking for a free will donation. Those who "can't" pay are simply asked to voluntarily do some work. Oh yeah, I'm seeing this concept work well. I suspect SLBC has already written this location off as a tax deduction of some sort, and wouldn't be at all upset by its closure. Of course, it's obvious that the liberals who thought up this concept are desperately hoping it works out, but I suspect we'll see another lesson in cold hard reality that they'll ignore once again. Aside from some big money donors throwing in money that has nothing to do with the food, this concept is hopelessly idealistic and empty. How long until we start reading about the crestfallen disappointment of the liberals who were just sure this would work out? A few months, I'm guessing, maybe more, maybe less. And, I'll also predict that the failure will be blamed on something other than the fact that most of the clientele of this place is likely to be liberals, and liberals (despite earning more money) are less generous in matters of donation and charity.
The bottom line is that you simply can't offer something for free forever. I'm sure that this wave of publicity will generate a lot of happy feelings and probably some good operating costs for a while, but it won't last. Pretty soon, the allure of free food and drink will set in, and people will 'forget' their wallets, or be in a hurry and assure themselves they'll give extra next time, or whatever. This is a micro-scale example of socialism: some locations bust their butts and earn money to support the freeloading location, but eventually the freeloader will become so burdensome to the productive ones that it becomes obvious what needs to happen. The freeloader will have to be cut loose, or the entire thing will be threatened. Even in the event that this community experiment somehow survives (which would be shocking), it won't actually prove anything about the socialist model in business until SLBC converts all of its locations to donation-only and then thrives. Then we'll talk about what it means in a larger context.
But there are also some practical considerations that are a little troubling here. At the risk of sounding like a cold-hearted jerk -- or, as we common sense conservatives call it, a common sense conservative -- for those few who are genuinely unable to afford to pay a couple bucks for food, are they really the best people to be wiping down a table? I mean, wouldn't these folks likely be homeless, and therefore not exactly in the best hygienic condition? I don't know about you, but at most restaurants I don't exactly trust the wiping job of the clean-looking 30-year old who is busting his butt and doing a bang-up job, especially when I know my 9-month old is going to plant her toothless mouth on the side of the table the first chance she gets. Sickness is real, and I'm not going to put my kids at unnecessary risk. But that's just me.
And what happens if a group of 15 people decide they want to volunteer for an hour because they "can't" pay for their food? There will be so many employees and volunteers that it'll negatively impact the customers. Does it still count as your volunteer 'payment' if there's not enough work to be done and you end up just standing around idle for an hour? Will that be the new thing - people will grab lunch in large groups, hang out for an hour, each working about four minutes of that hour, and be on their way? Oh yes, it'll happen. I'm sure you remember high school as well as I do - there's no shortage of people willing to work harder at avoiding work than just doing the work they should have been doing in the first place.
And what about re-stocking? Is SLBC going to let these volunteers go into the back areas of the store to re-stock the straws and Splenda packets? Is anyone else seeing the inherent problems of having these volunteers back where the food is prepared? Heck, if SLBC is willing to let volunteers roam the store, and if SLBC is willing to give away food, what's stopping the masses from simply walking into the freezer and loading up with whatever they want? They can't exactly stop anyone from doing that while still claiming to offer free food, can they? And what does OSHA think about this plan of having volunteers all over the place? What about liability and legal issues? What happens when a volunteer slips and falls in the store, and decides to sue SLBC? What happens to the jobs of the real employees when the location can't make payroll? How's that volunteerism going to work out when it costs real jobs?
All this is just off the top of my head. I'm sure that if you let an actual business owner take a crack at it, they'll find many, many more potential landmines here. In short, it will fail, just like every liberal idea does when it encounters the real world.
There's my two cents.