Saturday 3 October 2009

Markets in everything: I'll have what he ordered

Via BookOfJoe, a Japanese cafe that serves you what the last person ordered (and paid for), and serves the next person what you bought.
The guys behind the counter and I immediately launched into a humorous, protracted, Englishanese attempt to understand what the hell just happened. Through judicious fumbling, and after a great deal of precise hand-waving and mangled pronouns, it turned out to be something like this:

At this cafe, you get what the person before you ordered. The next person gets what you ordered.

Welcome to the Ogori cafe!

As I sat down to enjoy my surprise Appletizer, loving this insane idea and wondering what would happen if you tried it in America, a Japanese woman approached the cafe. Since she could actually speak Japanese, she could read the large sign at the front and, fortunately or unfortunately, got advanced warning of what she was in for. Before making a final decision on what to order, she quietly snuck up to me to try to ask me what I had ordered, knowing that it would be her unwavering refreshment destiny. The staff put a quick stop to her trickery, and I didn't answer.

Of course, regardless of what she ordered, she got the orange juice I ordered a few minutes earlier. But here's one of the moments that make this experiment cool: she actually chose orange juice, just like I did. So she got what she wanted. Ogori cafe synchronicity!

Before we left, there was one last thing hat had to be done.

Mike went up to the cafe, slapped down a couple thousand yen (~$25), and ordered a little bit of everything: some ice cream, some snacks, some candy, some drinks, a Japanese horn-of-mysterious-plenty intentionally set up as a shocking surprise for the next lucky customer. (After his order, Mike received single iced coffee.)

As we walked away from the cafe, with just the right amount of delay, we heard an extremely excited "arigato goazimasu!! thank you so much!!" yelled in our direction, from an ecstatic mom and her equally excited young son. They truly appreciated the surprise.

The comments thread suggests that this was more of an art project than a going business concern. But it's still a nice warning for blackboard market failure theorists. On the blackboard, nobody going here would ever order anything other than a glass of tap water and the shop would go bankrupt immediately. I wonder if the artist kept any data on sales over time and repeat customers.


  1. Sounds like its modeled on the protocol of a poetry circle. The group improvises a poem. Each person contributes a stanza, one after the other around the circle, in real time. Your stanza must relate to the one that came before you. You can read about such poetry circles in Eike Ikegami, Bonds of Civility: Aesthetic Networks and the Political Origins of Japanese Culture (Cambridge 2006), which I have reviewed. It was the most interesting book I read in 2006.

  2. Thanks for sharing. Found this via Seth Godin's blog and PSFK.

    Cannot paste hyperlink here, sorry. Find it by "Ogori (and generosity)".

  3. @CoCreatr: Thanks! I was wondering why the PSFK link was again sending me traffic; Godin linking PSFK explains it.