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Summary:

Imagine walking into a cafe, ordering a coffee and a biscuit, grabbing a seat and plugging away on your laptop. Then at the end of the week you drop a $20 into the anonymous drop box. Notice the missing step? The coins and bills to pay […]

Imagine walking into a cafe, ordering a coffee and a biscuit, grabbing a seat and plugging away on your laptop. Then at the end of the week you drop a $20 into the anonymous drop box. Notice the missing step? The coins and bills to pay for your order when you receive it? Welcome to the Terra Bite cafe. It’s all about pure karma.

Terra Bite plays on the term “terabyte”, and references earth and food. It’s a dream turned into reality by Google programmer Ervin Peretz. Ervin came up with the idea of the pay-what-you-can cafe located in downtown Kirkland Washington, while arguing in a bar with a friend. Peretz put his money on the fact that people are for the most part good, but can be influenced by their environment. If people see good, they’ll do good as well.

Peretz ponied up $4000k/month for a lease on some space to set up the cafe. The break-even point for the Terra Bite cafe is about 100 customers, with $3 per transaction. So far they are sitting at 80 per day. It seems like most people are overpaying for their coffee and treats as well. The idea is built on wanting to contribute something, because of the open, honest environment. Ervin has plans to open up other locations if the idea pans out. If it turns out that 20% of customers are dishonest, then he might also think about installing cash registers.

What do you think about this social experiment? Could it become the ultimate web working location? Or will the pressures of overpaying be too much to handle?

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  1. I think for once we should belive in human kindness. This is what we do everytime you check wikipedia. You believe in the kindness of the person who wrote that article, you belive that she really reserched it and wrote it as close as possible to the truth. Maybe it should start leaving the web.

  2. Ben Langhinrichs Friday, February 9, 2007

    In case this seems hopelessly idealistic, it is worth remembering that in Germany, the subways have no turnstiles. You are still supposed to buy tickets, but nobody collects them, and while large fines are levied if you are found without a ticket, the primary motivator seems to be that honesty is expected.

  3. I’ve been running a poll on whether Terra Bite will make it as a business.  Please add your vote, then I’ll publish the results in a few days.

  4. Zoli’s Blog Friday, February 9, 2007

    Starbucks 2.0: Terra Bite Lounge, Where Coffee is Price-less

    If it’s Web 2.0, it’s free – we’re quite used to that, but would you expect it in the real world?

    Terra Bite Lounge is an upscale cafe in Kirkland, WA that doesn’t list any prices on its menu.  That doesn’t mean it’s free either….

  5. seems to work in affluent suburbia, so let’s see him pull this off in a less affluent community…truly like a little hobby for rich tech people, out of touch with reality…if he wants to just throw moola out the window on social experiments, why not consider effective positive change and giving the money to a school or meaningful social program instead of cheap lattes for his neighbors?

  6. It also works in an environment where unemployment is low and disposable incomes are up. We’ll see how well it works if the market crashes again.

  7. Waouh i love that idea…
    If i had the money I would put something like this in Paris…

  8. Dave, are you honestly criticizing someone for trying to make the world a better, friendlier place because you don’t think it’s meaningful enough? Every little bit helps, and besides that, this guy doesn’t owe ‘less affluent” people anything. Just because he’s not helping the lowest common denominator doesn’t mean his efforts are wasted or meaningless. I wish the world had more people like him and less like you…

    As Theodore Roosevelt said, ““It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. “

  9. In a week where we have been assailed by the purient and lest common denominators of humanity, by which I mean the sad, sorry collapse of Captain Nowak, the tragic death of Ms. Smith, and the appalling media circus that has erupted around them, I am actually happy that someone is willing to see if the “better angels of our nature” are still there. Can it be that someone still has faith in us, that mankind isn’t swirling around the “bowl”, like some great, brown, proverbial turd, and headed for the drain?

    It’s kind of funny, I am gladened by the mere offer of an opportunity to prove my honesty. How have we come to such a state, where a man will lay out coffee, a pastry, and some WiFi, asking only that you contribute for the common good is such an unusual occurance that we consider it noteworthy. Wether his motives are altruistic or not, I believe that this was the world of our grandparents, where a man stood for something, and paid his fair share. That there was trust between neighbors, and even if people didn’t have the coin, you paid what you could, when you could.

    I’m not saying that everything was perfect in the past, and thet we are living in the end times, but I think that little efforts like this might just stem the tide of ever-increasing incivility that has become so prevelant in our nation today.

  10. @Ben Langhinrichs:

    The trains/subways are the same way in Los Angeles. $1.25 for a ticket, but no turnstiles or security, just an occasional ticket check (I spent a good year riding the train and had my ticket checked not more than twice). $250 fine if you don’t buy that $1.25 ticket though!

    I like the idea of this cafe – here’s an expansion on the concept:

    People who get to donate whatever they want have to be on the list – geeks off the street can buy at the register, or sign up to be on the list. Donations are made through paypal, or a machine, or something – displayed on the wall is an anonymized summary of donations – Patron 1 donated 20 dollars last week, Patron 2 donated 35.. the regulars could define the value of a week as a group that way while avoiding embarrassment about personal contributions.

    I can pervert any simple, beautiful idea by adding a complex system to it – maybe I should look into becoming a programmer ;)

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