Sunday 21 January 2018

Is your holiday worth the cost?

Pol O Conghaile

All travellers are frustrated by extra charges -- baggage fees, overpriced hotel breakfasts, fuel surcharges. For Rodney Harmon, however, a 75-cent newspaper was the last straw.

The Californian man spent a night at the Hilton Garden Inn Sonoma County Airport last March. The following morning, he found a copy of 'USA Today' outside his door. He left it where it was but, several days later, discovered he had been charged for it regardless.

Hotel policy was to charge for the paper unless guests "un-requested" it, so Harmon sued, this month filing a class-action lawsuit against Hilton.

Holidaymakers in Ireland may feel his pain. To the best of my knowledge, no Irish hotels require guests to 'de-select' add-ons -- though plenty have gone the Ryanair route in charging extra for Wi-Fi, parking and late check-out, so that may only be a matter of time.

Contrast all this with a restaurant I stumbled upon in Killarney recently. Pay As You Please, located down New Market Lane, charges no hidden extras. It doesn't even list prices. It simply asks diners to pay "what you believe your experience was worth".

The funky eatery is the brainchild of Barry McBride and Rob O'Reilly, who opened in January, tarting up an old storehouse with an open kitchen, wall projections and stand-up piano.

"Some pay less and some pay more than a given dish costs," O'Reilly told me. "It's a numbers game. We ain't making a million dollars. But there's definitely potential there."

After a meal of pizza, falafels, soup in a bread bowl and a zingy chorizo and butterbean salad, we popped a family contribution of €30 into a box chalked with the words 'Pay Here'.

In the current economic morass, this kind of creativity is encouraging. But it's also refreshing to find a business that trusts its offering enough to leave the pricing to customers.

The only other Irish restaurant I've seen do anything similar was a fictional one -- RTE's 'Raw'.

Of course, it would be naive to think the pay-what-you-think-it's-worth model would work on a broader scale.

But imagine, just for a second, what you might pay if it was.

This year, would I have spent €79.10 on a room in the Rathmines Travelodge?

Would I have coughed up €3.95 for a tub of fruit salad at the Real Food Co in Dublin Airport? I would not.

On the other hand, I would happily have paid more than €25 for a three-course lunch at Thornton's, or forked out a fiver at the lovely Coole Park in Galway, which is free.

Eight months after de-selecting the prices on its menu, Pay As You Please is still in business.

Next time he's in Killarney, perhaps Rodney Harmon should stop by.

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