A Free Cup of Coffee at Starbucks

Unthinkable futures are probabilities we tend to dismiss without thinking, scenarios that seem too far-fetched to be true today, but may seem obvious in retrospect tomorrow.

Inspired by the unthinkable futures game between Kevin Kelly and Brian Eno from fifteen years back, I made my own list of the ten unthinkable futures of marketing yesterday.

It turns out that the #1 unthinkable future on my list is already here –

1. No products will have price tags anymore. People will pick up products from the mall, or order them online and have them delivered home, and pay only what they want to pay.

I was aware of the numerous examples of authors and musicians giving away their books and music for free, but I discovered two examples of restaurants giving away food for free, and allowing the patrons to decide what they want to pay for it.

The first one is Seva Cafe in Ahmedabad (via Global Oneness Project via Meryl) –

– and the second is Same Cafe in Denver –

Same Cafe is unique in the lack of a set menu as well as set prices. Daily selections are made using fresh, organic ingredients, and funded by the donations of patrons. Instead of a cash register, a donation box is available for one to pay what they felt their meal was worth, or to leave a little more and help out someone less fortunate. If a diner does not have sufficient money to leave, they are encouraged to exchange an hour of service.

Fascinating, isn’t it?

Now, think of a chain of restaurants built on the same philosophy — patrons eat what they like and pay what they want to.

Better still, imagine Starbucks asking you to decide what you want to pay for your cup of coffee.

If it was so, what would Starbucks do differently? That will be an interesting thought experiment for a Sunday.

Update: The Annalakshmi chain of vegetarian restaurants in Chennai, Coimbatore, Singapore, Kuala Lumpur, Penang and Perth are run by volunteers and let the patrons decide what they want to pay (hat tip: Siva Rajendran) –

Annalakshmi’s principal motive is service and not profit… It is run largely by volunteer staff who joyfully serve in an assortment of restaurant activities… How can we price tag an act of love, selfless service? How can we price tag… service of a family hosting their guests? Almost all Annalakshmi outlets world over runs on this concept of “Eat as you want, Give as you Feel”. Have your meal first, pay whatever comes to your mind; that is perfect and appropriate for the meal you had in Annalakshmi.

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