French price discrimination on the basis of politeness

by on December 13, 2013 at 2:45 pm in Economics, Food and Drink | Permalink

Be polite, or be prepared to pay.

That’s the message a French cafe is sending its customers. Employees of La Petite Syrah in Nice, France, posted a menu that rewards politeness and punishes rudeness. A photo was posted on Twitter with the line, roughly translated to “There are still people who know how to live!”

So, here’s the deal. Customers who can only be bothered to mumble, “un cafe” (without a greeting or a “please”) can expect to pay 7 euros ($9.63).

A lot of money for a cup of java. Fortunately, there are simple ways to cut that cost dramatically. If the customer includes a “s’il vous plait” (“please”), the price goes down to 4.25 euros ($5.85). But wait — don’t order quite yet.

If you really want to save cash, greet your barista with a “Bonjour” (“Good day” for those who never saw “Beauty and the Beast”) and the cost drops again, this time to a perfectly reasonable 1.40 euro ($1.93).

This may be a marketing vehicle for the cafe, although the manager claims it was started as a joke.  I am not sure what is the most plausible theory for how this might actually be effective price discrimination.  There is more here, and I thank Mark Thorson and Ray Lopez for the pointers.  Jason Kottke offers more detail.

ummm December 13, 2013 at 3:05 pm

paul krugman writes:

“Second, the cuts did huge short-term economic damage. Small-government advocates like to claim that reducing government spending encourages private spending — and when the economy is booming, they have a point. The recent cuts, however, took place at the worst possible moment, the aftermath of a financial crisis. Families were struggling to cope with the debt they had run up during the housing bubble; businesses were reluctant to invest given the weakness of consumer demand. Under these conditions, government cutbacks simply swelled the ranks of the unemployed — and as family incomes fell, so did consumer spending, compounding the damage.”

Paul kurgman yet again blaming republicans for the allegedly weak economy. The evidence in terms of profits & earnings, technological innovation, web 2.0 companies like snapchat etc suggests there was no damage. consumer spending grew during the shutdown and posted strong gains overall for 2013.

msgkings December 13, 2013 at 4:42 pm

What is your problem? You just want attention?
If you’re going to post non-sequiturs why not go all out and do this on a fashion blog, or a soccer blog, or something like that?

Dan D December 13, 2013 at 3:20 pm

Well, of course they expect the locals, at least, to be Nice.

Urso December 13, 2013 at 3:56 pm

I would boo this post, but I don’t want Tyler to charge me…

JWatts December 13, 2013 at 4:23 pm

Well you certainly won’t be charged with a fee for booing, but since you didn’t include the obligatory “Professor” in front of the name, you’ll have to pay the Honorific Tax.

prior_approval December 13, 2013 at 11:15 pm

Prof. Tyler is not a polite form of address.

Mike December 13, 2013 at 4:09 pm

It may attract rich a-holes who wish to broadcast their pleasure in being rude, in which case the owner might discover the price was too low.

Ray Lopez December 13, 2013 at 4:25 pm

@Mike- What do they call this in economics? Perverse incentives?

prior probability December 13, 2013 at 4:14 pm

Or this could be seen as tax on rudeness

revver December 13, 2013 at 4:46 pm

If your knowledge of French culture and language is limited to what remember from watching “Beauty and the Beast”, you need help.

Marian Kechlibar December 13, 2013 at 5:03 pm

Not everybody is a Westerner. For someone from, say, Malaysia, French culture is something totally foreign and alien. I will not even try to pretend that I know how to greet someone in Malaysian.

Careless December 13, 2013 at 7:12 pm

Ha, You picked one of the languages that stole “hello” from English.

revver December 13, 2013 at 9:10 pm

Touche. Still, as far as disney movies go, Hunchback of Notre Dame would have been my pick. ;-)

Jens Fiederer December 13, 2013 at 5:02 pm

I eat at a local German deli which has posted by the register (possibly in German, I’m going by memory): “An extra $10 service charge will be added to the bill for rude people.”

Rahul December 13, 2013 at 11:20 pm

I don’t know about France, but visiting Germany after living in the US makes it seem they do need a anti-rudeness nudge.

Tyler Wells December 13, 2013 at 5:03 pm

I saw the same thing in Spain last Spring “Buenos dias, un cafe por favor” at the lowest price. Cute, and it obviously gets attention.

lvps1000vm December 13, 2013 at 6:35 pm
Harry Dunne December 13, 2013 at 5:06 pm

Oh, I don’t know, Lloyd. The French are…

Jay December 13, 2013 at 6:34 pm

This sounds like the discrimination by a US bakery that refused to bake a wedding cake for a gay couple. Send the judge that overruled this US business to France and let him overrule the discriminatory practice against people that don’t behave the way the shop believe they should behave.

Rahul December 13, 2013 at 11:44 pm

Nope. There’s laws that make discrimination on “race, gender or sexual orientation.” unlawful in that state. There’s a couple of other protected categories in US law federally.

I don’t think “degree of rudeness” enjoys any such protection. It’s perfectly legal to discriminate against people so long as it doesn’t involve a protected attribute.

Jay December 14, 2013 at 6:04 pm

And why are those classes “holy” while other classes are not? Because the “voice” in someone’s head said so?

Jay December 13, 2013 at 6:39 pm

I’d like to know what you would be charged if you walked in the cafe while a fire fighter is around and exclaimed….

“Fuck you, fuckin’ queers. Firemen gettin’ pussy for the first time in the history of fire or pussy. Hey go save a kitten in a tree, you fucking homos. ”

Then ordered a coffee.

Willitts December 13, 2013 at 7:41 pm

Is this really price discrimination? Doesn’t look to me like market segmentation based on willingness and ability to pay (WATP). Is there a strong correlation between WATP and politeness in coffee consumption? If so, it is easy enough to fake.

As someone else said, it looks and behaves more like a rudeness tax.

The folks at my coffeeshop better realize that my tip is all the pre-caffeinated politeness they are going to get from me. :)

I’d stop going there. No one stages a coup on my consumer sovereignty.

bonjour December 13, 2013 at 8:25 pm

one of my coworkers has a “ten dollars for whining” comical poster on her outside cubicle wall. Interesting post, particularly the “Mark Thornton and Ray Lopez” part. this might be the first dual mention in a non-macro post of commenters in MR history.

Ray Lopez December 14, 2013 at 1:56 am

Whaddayou talkin’ about you crzy freakin frog? lol You economists types are too clever by half sometimes. Like a patzer in chess who is trying to think 20 moves deep and overlooks getting mated in one.

Alexey December 13, 2013 at 9:21 pm

I can just picture Samuel Jackson walking in: “un cafe, motherfucker!” and slapping down a twenty.

Matt December 13, 2013 at 9:52 pm

It’s interesting if true. During my stay in Italy the staff would get annoyed if you said much more than “un caffe'”, and they definitely didn’t care about any of that “per favore” stuff. This was the bars; waitstaff was generally more friendly. I came away with the distinct impression that everyone behind a counter hated their jobs.

I’m exaggerating, but not as much as you’d think.

On the other hand, almost everyone said “buongiorno” to us.

Ray Lopez December 14, 2013 at 9:08 am

It’s well understood that in Europe everybody in a service sector dealing with retail clients hates their job. Rudeness is routine. Here is southeast Asia, they are not rude, just apathetic, a different kind of rudeness. America is pretty much the only place in the world where you get a forced or fake sugary smile with your retail service.

Rahul December 14, 2013 at 12:15 pm

I think it’s mostly a Western EU phenomenon, especially German speaking nations. It’s a vicious cycle, even the customers tend to be pretty rude to the service sector staff. I’ve had a few incidents when I took a visiting German to a US restaurant and was embarrassed by his general gruffness (& poor tipping if he was paying)

American customers tend to be politer to staff and vice versa. I don’t agree with the “fake smile” critique. Firstly, how do we know, and secondly, it doesn’t matter: I’d rather a fake smile than genuine dourness.

TMC December 14, 2013 at 3:57 pm

In the US, it’s likely the customer even in a well to do restaurant, had server experience going through college.

JohnB December 14, 2013 at 11:37 am

I was in Italy for three weeks in September and used my minimal Italian to order coffee at a bar at least once a day (“Buon giorno! Un caffe, per favore.” and “Grazie!” when I got it). To me, the servers seemed pleased with my attempts to use Italian and be polite; I didn’t get the sense that they hated their jobs — though some of them were very busy and the busy ones didn’t respond as much, either verbally or with nods, etc..

emeye December 15, 2013 at 10:51 am

When a waiter is cheerful and pleasant then the client is usually polite in return; therefore, more than likely, the price difference was established to influence the general demeanour of the French waiter rather than the customer.

Igor December 16, 2013 at 7:28 am

Here (http://3.bp.blogspot.com/–Dq0aN13t1E/UhRj_ubjc_I/AAAAAAAACJs/0nbOBiwVr2Y/s1600/%D0%9A%D0%BE%D1%84%D0%B5%D0%B9%D0%BD%D1%8F-%C2%AB%D0%9F%D1%83%D1%88%D0%BA%D0%B8%D0%BD%C2%BB.jpg) is a real menu from cafe in Ukraine (though in Russian language). The best price is, as usual, for “Good morning, one coffee, please!” But the most expensive is not so for rudeness as for wrong grammar: in Russian coffee is of masculine gender, though many people now use neutral gender instead. Cafe owners encourage customers to use correct form of the word, as well as to be polite.

Comments on this entry are closed.

Previous post:

Next post: