Egonomics – when the price is exactly what you are willing to pay

I just spent some wonderful two months in Berlin and even though the time was packed with interesting experiences, the last entrepreneurial model I discovered was the most counter-intuitive. Allow me to elaborate: When thinking about where to have a good-bye dinner a friend suggested s’Loch (the Hole). S’Loch is the last Weinerei offspring and applies the most social and honour-dependent business model I have ever heard of:

First you consume an excellent three course dinner and drink as much of the various quality wines as you desire. Then after your bodily needs are satisfied and the cosy atmosphere has gotten you in a gratified mood, you simply give the waitress as much money as you consider appropriate for the experience and services provided.

I have to admit that I was a bit curious whether the quality would be acceptable and the wines not the type you curse the next morning. But it was truly excellent. So after the effect of the first glasses made me less

Of course I couldn’t resist investigating the origin and evolution of this most awkward business model. And as in most innovations, it was not a well stratified plan but sheer emergence that brought this friendly business to life. When the owner of the first Weinerei open its doors sometime in the late 90’s he invited some friends, prepared some food and had them taste the wines he had on offer. When the party was over his friends wanted to pay him for the expenses and, as he refused, they simply passed around a collection bag and each pitched in some cash. The story goes that his friends were so generous that he made a profit and decided to institutionalise the event. Henceforth a new way to make business exisits.

A quick search revealed two German media reports about the phenomenon. The D-Radio offers a short transcribed audio collage which also refers to some other businesses like a training centre and a family hotel à http://www.dradio.de/dlr/sendungen/kompass/296055/

And the ZEIT has published a short article highlighting the special atmosphere and philosophy of this Berlin ‘Geheimtip’ à http://www.zeit.de/2004/05/Umlauf_2fWinerie?page=all

From a ‘entrepreneurial design’ perspective, there are several interesting phenomena: The first I want to highlight has to do with the fact that the guests are donating instead of paying. I am not sure how they do their tax-report, but as far as I know a donation is treated favourably tax-wise. The second has to do with the fact that this model only works in a trusted, one is tempted to say communitarian, business environment. As the one owner expressed in the ZEIT interview, they don’t want advertisement, they don’t want to become rich – they simply want to do business in a positive environment where each customer is a friend.

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