Adventures in Food, England Edition


No, it's not that I've had bad food. Far from it! I know this isn't a food blog, but I wanted to briefly discuss two blog-worthy experiences.

Conveyor Belt Sushi

First, I ate sushi off of a conveyor belt tonight. Well, not directly off the belt. But I ate at an outpost of the UK chain Yo! Sushi, where sushi and other dishes travel around a conveyor belt in covered dishes. You just reach forward and take what you want. The plates (and their prices) are color coded, a visual control of sorts. But it's often hard to see what's underneath the clear domes if it's a hot/warm dish, as steam fogs the clear bubble lid. At the end of the meal, they count up your plates and you pay. It was the tastiest conveyor belt I've ever been around.

One of the newspapers had a story about how some of the locations aren't as clean as they should be. I guess I was seduced by the automation! Hey, it's a trap that many factories and hospitals fall into, so why should I be immune, this one time? Should I have been concerned about cleanliness or food safety? Call me brave. I figured they would “clean up their act” after the news stories. I did wish there was a clearer visual indicator of how long the food had been on the conveyor belt.

“Pay What You Think The Meal is Worth”

I can't find a website for them, but I ate (a few weeks back) at a restaurant called “easyCurry” (it's probably a trademark infringement suit waiting to happen… calling easyJet, they are using the same font as you in their logo).

They have a unique concept. You pay £5 ($10 US) to get in, an “admission fee,” they call it. Then you order one starter, one main, one veggie side, and rice or naan (and ice cream if you want it…. I have some willpower, I said no to that). You get charged normal prices for drinks, but then at the end you “pay what you think the meal is worth”. Cash only.

I paid another £10 total at the end of the meal. I had one beer ( £2.65). The £10 included my tip, but its unclear how they work that out with the staff (which is a big issue over here right now). The food was OK. I figured £15 wasn't outrageous for a full meal with a beer. I wonder if their average take is better than if they charged normal prices? How many people would feel shamed by walking out without paying more? This is a new restaurant… and maybe a risky strategy in a down economy. At least it isn't “all you can eat,” for their sake.

Has anyone else heard of a restaurant (or any business) a pricing concept like this? I guess it's the clearest illustration of “value is defined by the customer” that I've seen in a long time.

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Mark Graban
Mark Graban is an internationally-recognized consultant, author, and professional speaker, and podcaster with experience in healthcare, manufacturing, and startups. Mark's new book is The Mistakes That Make Us: Cultivating a Culture of Learning and Innovation. He is also the author of Measures of Success: React Less, Lead Better, Improve More, the Shingo Award-winning books Lean Hospitals and Healthcare Kaizen, and the anthology Practicing Lean. Mark is also a Senior Advisor to the technology company KaiNexus.


  1. I wasn’t aware of easycurry before but if it is the same logo etc then you’ll probably find that it IS the same company as easyJet, the owner has branched out into a few areas.

  2. Hi Mark,

    As a UK-based reader I’ve been reading your observations about life in England with great interest :-)

    As for the concept of paying what you think the meal is worth there are quite a few independent restaurants in England trying this model – I’ve eaten in one in north London and the food and service was excellent, I probably paid slightly over the odds. Not sure how sustainable it is a business model but what I like about it is the link with Ohno’s oft-quoted statement about JIT being like walking a tighrope without a safety net – it forces you to think quality. If the chef and waiting staff know that the better the food and service the more income the place gets, I expect the pressure is on (in a positive way) to perform to your best everytime, rather than knowing that whatever the quality of food you send out, the customer will (generally) pay the quoted price.

    I guess the latest experiment with this pricing is in the record industry with the band Radiohead recently releasing their album ‘In Rainbows’ on the web and asking people to pay what they think it’s worth. You have to be pretty confident in the quality of the product to do it and it shows ‘respect for people’ in the sense that you are betting that the majority of customers (hey they’re people too!) will pay a fair price for a product they value rather than simply try and get a meal or new album for the cheapest price they can get away with.

  3. Mark

    We have a joint that goes by the name Annalakshmi here in Singapore. They are very popular among localites for their version of indian food.

    Its a not-for-profit organization runing a restaurant where you pay what you think the food is worth. The waiters / ushers are all volunteers and work with Annalakshmi as community service.

    Last time I was talking to one of the volunteers who was serving food and he turned out to be a Partner in a prestigious Law firm !!


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