When Sean began operating Summersault Café in June, they were offering free beverages and cakes for the first two weeks in a marketing bid to draw attention to their café.
After all, what do Malaysians like more than free food?
Well, this small little café in the heart of PJ now stand by their brewed, and homebaked goods, because they’re letting customers decide by themselves on how much their food is worth.
During what Sean called their “slow first month”, one of his part-timers, a chemistry student from UM, suggested the pay-as-you-wish concept.
He credits her for “saving his *ss”. Even though business was slow going into their second month, Sean is now happy to report that he gets a full house during the evenings, as well as weekends in his relatively small upstairs space.
Summersault is the latest venture for Sean, who used to be a Fine Arts lecturer as well as a gym instructor. The café serves up beverages like coffee and green tea lattes, as well as pastries, cakes and light meals such as scones, pies, and cakes.
Their gradual but sure climb came from word of mouth. The first curious few guests eventually began bringing their friends and family into the space, and between that and reviews in magazines and newspapers, Sean saw appreciation for the business concept from attending Malaysians.
Initially, Summersault Café placed an honesty box for customers to slip their money into, but eventually realised that the concept can’t work in Malaysia.
Like selected drinks in Urban Coffee in MidValley, Summersault eventually just opted to use the existing POS system for payments instead.
“This way, we get to interact with customers face to face. We also get get to know their feedback and feel warmth (of human interaction) upon their next visit,” said the supervisor.
He didn’t say this in so many words, but having to hand the cash over to an actual person behind the counter probably helps shame customers into paying what they think the meal is actually worth.
This probably helps reduce instances of gaming the system by unscrupulous Malaysians looking for a quick deal.
On average, customers pay RM10 for their food and drink—especially since the space switched to the POS system.
Sean tells us that “everyone started paying up RM10 because it’s one note that’s easy to pull out, and set a standard since,” which others have followed to this day.
It’s not a foolproof system of course, but when asked about the cost versus profit of the system, Sean states that he’s done the math. In fact, perhaps capitalising on its novelty and current clientele, Sean is already drafting out renovation plans to expand the space in a couple of months.
The response to his café has been positive—for the most part.
Customers in the bustling PJ area appreciated the idea and praised the business for daring to attempt this concept in Malaysia. After all, putting the onus of payment onto the customer forces the business to try and win more money with customer service and actually serving good food.
However, there have been a minority of customers who refuse to adapt to the system, seemingly uncomfortable with the idea. These individuals disputed the method and insisted on being quoted a price.
While the café staff are happy (and probably expect) to explain the concept to newcomers and walk-ins, Sean tells us that they’re banking on customer loyalty to keep going, similar to the time-based café Herserlef that we wrote about previously. To Sean, over time, the right ones stay loyal to the business.
“People they pay according to what they value. If they feel attended to and welcomed, they pay more. It becomes a service matter, about hospitality.”
Feature Image Credit: Summersault Café