Everything old is new again.

I pride myself in obtaining the very latest in up to date information on foodservice trends and innovations. Today there was an article about a London restaurant that came up with a revolutionary idea for these hard economic times.

Their approach was simple: Suggest prices, but let the customer pay what they want for the meal. This establishes trust in the customer, provides feedback on the quality of food and service, builds reputation and customer base…and the list goes on. According to the restaurant, very few people actually try to ‘take advantage’ of the eatery and claim a free meal.

What a great, new, cutting edge idea…except for the fact that it was already a hugely popular concept here in Southern California…over 75 years ago.

Yes, back during the REAL Great Depression of the 1930s, a fellow named Clifford Clinton started a diner called Cliftons in Los Angeles. He was a third generation foodservice man, having grown up in his father’s cafeteria in San Francisco. His grandfather began the family tradition at a train station in San Bernardino, California in 1888.

Let me mention one prominent factor here: The family were devout Christians who created their diners and then went off as missionaries for the Salvation Army in China. Their successful restaurants kept them in enough money to continue their charity work.

Knowing few people could afford to eat out in the depths of the Great Depression in 1931, he made a pledge to the public that they could pay whatever they wanted or could afford. He vowed that none would go away hungry. Suggested prices were on the menu, but people could pay little or even nothing if they were not completely satisfied with the quality of the food. In our jaded day one would think the conniving public would rob him blind. However, people are generally good and honest. And they appreciate someone whose heart is truly set for the good of all. For every 3,000 customers served, only about 12 would scofflaw and demand a free meal.

Customers became “guests” and none were ever turned away hungry, even though they had no money. During one 90-day period, 10,000 ate free before Clifford could open an emergency “Penny Cafeteria” a few blocks away to feed, for pennies, the two million “guests” who came during the next two years. They survived and thrived via creative means. But that is another story for another time.
Cliftons in downtown Los Angeles is still operating…and thriving massively — using all floors of the three story building for the crowds of people who come to eat there. After 113 years and four generations. You may scoff at the approach, but the success is undeniable! And no, very few are down and out types.

Innovative approaches and solutions are the hallmark of successful businesses. Synergy Restaurant Consultants provides those long term and creative ideas.

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