Coffee Shop Uses Honor System to Charge Customers

Illustration for article titled Coffee Shop Uses Honor System to Charge Customers

A coffee shop in North Dakota relies on honesty and good old fashioned human decency when it comes to charging customers for their product.


Stop laughing — not everyone is a soulless despot hellbent on dragging the rest of humanity into an abyss of misery (which I know is exactly how you feel every morning before you have your first cup of coffee). David and Kimberly Brekke run a coffee shop called The Vault in Valley City, North Dakota. The shop operates out of a renovated bank with drinks offered on what used to be a teller counter. Via the Associated Press:

Coffee lovers can choose java from a commercial brewer, complete with gourmet creams and flavorings, or individual servings from a Keurig brewing system, or K-Cups. There also are soft drinks and homemade pastries.

This unusual setup has given customers a sense of ownership, helped revitalize the city's downtown — and, in the first 10 months of the business, brought in about 15 percent more money than the asking price.

Like most coffee shops, The Vault features local artwork and offers free WiFi. Most of the furniture is donated by locals. The shop doesn't take I.O.U.s. but customers can pay with credit card, cash or check. David Brekke said this kind of system (which also encourages patrons to round up or round down when it comes to shelling out exact change for a purpose) is perfectly natural to him.

He grew up in a small town in Minnesota where one of his neighbors used to leave corn on the cob in the yard with a cardboard box as cash register. "Nobody ever took the box with the money in it," Brekke said.

"I think that people who haven't grown up in a small, tight-knit community like this are very surprised by honesty," Brekke said.

Image via Shutterstock.


All Corgis All the Time

When I worked at the homeless drop in, I wanted a way for us to raise money for a pizza party. I could call up businesses and ask (and I did stuff like that frequently when I was in dire straits), but I wanted something we could all strive for - staff, clients, volunteers, etc.

I decided to collect cans left over from supper. I used to leave all of the cans and milk cartons for people to take themselves and cash in. I set up some recycling cans and put up notes saying I wanted all of us to help raise money for a pizza party. I put a big sign up that showed how much we'd raised so far and where we had to go.

At 5c ents each, that added up, so folks didn't want to at first. But then, they saw that the marker was rising so slowly week by week, that they started to throw in a bit. Then, the homeless folks would donate a few of their cans from their daily picks to the kitty.

Some would ask, "why not get someone wealthy to buy it" and my answer was always the same: I wanted to show everyone that we could do it ourselves. I didn't let volunteers stick in $20s. They could put in their spare change and nothing more. I wanted this to be something the community could be proud of.

I had to set up a jar for change, since then they started cashing in their cans and bringing a bit of the change as almost a tithe. Some new folks would drop by the building and start taking the cans out, but other clients would say hey, don't do that. It's for a pizza party. And folks would stop taking them.

We raised $2000 in about 4 months and I put on a giant pizza party. We had wings, pizza, pop, caesar salad, cakes, milk, and bananas. It was a huge deal and the homeless themselves were so excited they'd raised two grand on their own. Plus, they got to vote what I served and I brought in about a half dozen flavours (we made the pizzas and wings ourselves, so we had even more food because of that).

A lot of folks thought the homeless couldn't be trusted with all of those cans of recyclables. A lot were convinced they'd never give up their own money. But not only did they, but they used the honour system, they self-regulated, they were honest, and they were excited and participated.