About a month ago, news broke that Williamsburg restaurant Santorini Grill would follow a “pay what you want” model for a month starting Nov. 4. The world (or at least, this WSJ writer) scoffed. Given the coverage of Pandora’s failing pay-what-you-want cafe in Portland, the policy change seemed like a risk.
So more than halfway through the month, we checked in on the Greek restaurant to see how they’re holding up. “It’s going ok,” owner Paula Douralas tells us. “I’m thinking about doing it for another month.”
Douralas says she’s making enough to pay the bills, and while some customers do abuse the system, she’s gotten some regulars out of the experience — regulars who pay a normal amount. “It’s bringing more people in,” she says. “It’s not that I make millions, it’s just that more people are coming in so you’re busier.” Whether or not she’ll continue the offer depends on how this weekend goes.
Douralas hasn’t been too surprised with the outcome; in her first interview with Williamsburg Greenpoint News + Arts, she predicted, “There will be some people who pay nothing, some who pay what the usual cost is, and some who pay more than the price on the menu... It will balance out.”
What she didn’t expect was people’s apprehension. “The thing is, I didn’t realize that they would be scared of us,” she says. “Outside of the restaurant I made a sign that says you pay what you feel the food is worth, and I see them stopping outside and they read it but they don’t come in. They’re like shocked, like, 'What is she, crazy?'”
Right now Douralas is handing out menus without prices, charging only for drinks and service. She has taken some items off the pay-what-you-want menu, specifically lamb, octopus, shrimp, branzini, and red snapper. “I have fish and calamari and all that,” she says, “but because the price is too high, I can’t chance on lamb prices going crazy. I couldn’t take the gamble on that.”
The original menu is available upon request. Other examples of pay-what-you-want restos (other than Panera Bread) include Jon Bon Jovi’s charity eatery in New Jersey and the now-closed Hamburger Frank's in Virginia, which may have started the trend some 50 years ago.
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