Honest Tea put Bethesda to the honor system test on Wednesday with an unattended supply of drinks in front of the Barnes & Noble on Bethesda Row.
The Bethesda-based bottled tea company asked for $1 from those who picked up the drinks, part of a national social experiment and marketing campaign to see how honest people are when no one is looking.
It’s the second year Honest Tea, which is located just yards away from the Barnes & Noble in an upstairs office space on Bethesda Avenue, has done the experiment in Bethesda and the first time it has done it in all 50 states and D.C.
The company will put together a “National Honesty Index” and release the results later this month to show how many people paid $1 for their drinks.
Expect the results to show 90 to 93 percent of people who stopped by the Bethesda experiment ponied up the dollar bill.
“The connection to honesty, to us trying to use real ingredients in all of our products, kind of lent itself to seeing how honest people would be without anyone looking,” said Dan Forman, Honest Tea’s director of public relations and digital media. “Over several years, the honesty percentages are mostly in the 90s, but by and large the vast majority have been near 92 percent. Bethesda stacks up pretty evenly.”
The campaign started five years ago when a group of marketing pros in San Francisco left out drinks on a hot day in the middle of busy Market Street, then took to a nearby building to watch how many people paid for their drinks even though they really didn’t have to.
In May 2010, popular fast casual bakery and lunch spot Panera Bread opened its first “pay-what-you-can” store in a St. Louis suburb with no prices and no cash registers. It now operates five of the stores that are expected to serve more than one million people this year.
The results may surprise you. According to The Atlantic, about 60 percent of customers pay the suggested price, 20 percent pay less or nothing and 20 percent end up paying more than the cost of their meal.
“You see things like take a penny, leave a penny, the college honors system or even self-checkout in grocery stores and generally we see that when you trust people, they do the right thing,” Forman said.