What guides how much people pay at pay-what-you-want restaurants?

A good portion of it is explained by the weather:

We study the distribution and evolution of payments in a pay-what-you-want restaurant. Despite missing price tags and despite the option to pay nothing at all, we observe that the vast majority of guests makes strictly positive payments. Over the two years covered by our data, average payments decline slightly, converging at a positive level. At the same time, the number of daily guests increases steadily, resulting in a considerable increase in total revenues. We discuss one possible interpretation of the long-term trend in payments in terms of social norms. We further show that short-term fluctuations in average payments are partly explained by exogenous weather changes. We provide evidence that-in line with work in psychology – weather-induced changes in mood affect payments.

Source: “Norms, moods, and free lunch: Longitudinal evidence on payments from a Pay-What-You-Want restaurant” from Journal of Socio-Economics

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