- The pay-what-you-can model at Pan’s Pizza uses color-coded “boats” to accommodate the financial needs of patrons hit hard by the pandemic.
- Customers in certain boats, such as blue, yellow, orange and white, receive discounts or even free pizzas.
The owners of Pan’s Pizza, located in South Hero, Vermont, realize not every customer is in the same boat, financially speaking. Some have been hit hard by the pandemic, while many are doing OK (but not great) and others are getting along just fine.
Pan’s Pizza has developed a “pay-what-you-can” pricing strategy that meets all of their needs, offering color-coded “boats” based on ability to pay. Guests can simply say, “I’m in the yellow boat” and automatically receive a 50% discount or “I’m in the green boat” if they’re able to pay the full price.
The approach allows customers to describe their financial situation without fear of stigma, Justine Zolotas, co-owner of Pan’s Pizza, told VTDigger recently. “I really wanted to be able to have it implemented in a way that people didn’t have to feel they were losing any dignity,” she said.
The pizzeria’s website features a section called, “What Boat Are You In?” The individual boats and colors break down as follows:
Green: “I’ve been fortunate and am able to pay full price.”
Blue: “I/my family has been impacted by financial hardship due to COVID-19. I am able to pay 75%.”
Yellow: “I/my family has been impacted by financial hardship due to COVID-19. I am able to pay 50%.”
Orange: “I/my family has been seriously impacted by financial hardship due to COVID-19. I am able to pay 25%.” (This offer is limited to one 14” pizza per family or one 12” pizza per individual.)
White: “I/my family has been seriously impacted by financial hardship due to COVID-19.” (This designation comes with a 100% discount on one large pizza per family or one medium pizza per individual.)
Zolotas and her brother, Alexander, along with partner Sani Pasagic, launched the pricing model in March 2021. Zolotas’ parents, Anne and Pan, opened Pan’s Pizza in 1998 before selling it to their children in 2021. “The community has been patronizing Pan’s Pizza for, what, 25 years almost?” Zolotas said in the VTDigger interview. “We were like, this is something that we could do.”
Most customers gladly pay full price, Zolotas said, and no one abuses the pay-what-you-can system. “We do use our discretion and feel very lucky that we can just make that call in the moment,” she added. “And we always err on the side of generosity.”
Some customers even choose to “pay it forward,” shelling out extra money for their meals to help offset the pizzeria’s costs and ensure others get fed.
Jill Lowrey, a Pan’s Pizza regular, has been impressed by the “boat” model. “I don’t know how many other places in Vermont are doing something like that,” she said. “I think that just speaks volumes to who they are and what they do.”