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April 07, 2005



We recently ate at the Annalakshmi in Chennai and, frankly, were not impressed. The pay-what-you-want policy was not in effect. Indeed, that formula operates only one day every year. The tariff for lunch was fixed price, not including drinks, and astronomically expensive. Lunch cost in the neighborhood of Rs. 1,100 to 1,200 per person.

The restaurant is absolutely gorgeous, the service -- performed by volunteers from the community, generally older professional people -- was exceptional, and the menu interesting. But that's about all I can say to recommend the experience. The food was somewhat elaborate but not very good. And I don't mean "not very good considering how expensive it was." I mean it ws pretty lousy, period.

I completely understand why the pay-what-you-want pricing is not in effect at Annalakshmi in Chennai. Notwithstanding the sumptuous surroundings, no one in their right mind would ever consider paying Rs. 1,000 for a mediocre lunch. In fact, I would bet that if you took 100 upper-middle class citizens of Chennai, fed them an Annalakshmi meal, and then asked them what it should cost if served at a beautiful, well-run restaurant, not one of them would attach a price tag of over Rs. 200, which is still a damned expensive meal.

There is a shoe-shine guy in downtown San Francisco who has pay-what-you-want days twice a week. He once told me that he makes substantially more money on those days. The reason is twofold. First, when the price-setting burden is on the consumer in a one-to-one, face-to-face, buyer-to-seller relationship, they do not want to insult the provider regarding the value of the service or to appear cheap. It's a psychological issue. Second, most people who get their shoes shined do not do it regularly enough to recall exactly how much it should cost. Without a reliable memory of the customary price, the tendancy is to overvalue it.

People in Chennai -- and elsewhere -- know exactly how much to expect that a meal should cost. And few, if any, would voluntarily pay anything close to the sum Annalakshmi obviously wants for a meal, notwithstanding the psychological factors at work. Buying a meal at Annalakshmi is not about buying a meal; it is about supporting charitable causes. But the premium one is asked to pay for this is not stated or obvious up-front, which only adds to the overall disappointment of the meal.

I hope the Annalakshmi in San Francisco provides a different dining experience and reflects a more respectful attitude toward its dining benefactors than the Chennai branch.


That's interesting, Mark. You're right. Your experience in Chennai is pretty much the exact opposite of the pay-as-you-wish model.

I think the intention is for all the restaurants to go to the pay-as-you-wish model. Swamiji, realized that everyone has different insecurities and is encouraging them to switch over only when they are ready.

Like you mentioned, they will likely not get even close to what they are currently charging, and perhaps this is the basis for the insecurity. Hopefully, they will take a dive sometime soon in respect for the noble leap of faith that is Annalakshmi.

Just for the record, the one in SF does intend to be fully pay-as-you-wish.

:) John


I had served in the restaurant at the request of Swamiji on my holiday to Chennai. I had done the same in Kuala Lumpur. It is a joy to serve.


Swamiji atained Maha Samadhi on Wed ( today ) at 12.40 indian time in the city of Coimbatore, India.


Six to seven years ago, a bunch of us working at HP/Agilent in Singapore, ordered our lunch from Annalakshmi regularly. We did pay for the food -I don't recall how much- but we did not have anything to complain about. Food was always fresh, tasty and full of variety. I have also dined at their restaurant a few times. Great ambience, indeed. The idea that it was purely volunteer-driven and that the money they made was spent on charity works was what made us gladly seek their food and service.

Air Jordan

When a friend is in trouble, don't annoy him by asking if there is anything you can do. Think up something appropriate and do it. Do you agree?

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