Service of the Honor System

September 20th, 2018

Categories: Drinks, Honesty, Restaurant, Retail


These days you’ll walk out of Drug Store in Tribeca in Manhattan with a pricey health drink without paying–though the drink isn’t free. You’re expected to send a text message to the drink manufacturer, Dirty Lemon, that owns Drug Store, after which you’ll receive a link in which to post your credit card number. That’s the same way customers order cases of the lemon-flavored drink-with-supplements for shipment home.

Dirty Lemon bottles Photo: tribecacitizen

But this isn’t just any old lemon drink. Whatever your inclination, it is purported to have beauty, sleep, anti-aging, detox or other benefits depending on additives of collagen, magnesium, rose water or charcoal for example. On the website, Daily Detox, one of the drinks, costs $45 for six bottles, shipping included, and $65 on Amazon.

Erin Griffith wrote about the store in The New York Times. Dirty Lemon founder Zak Normandin doesn’t anticipate much theft from his largely young female customers, and said he’d allocate losses to his sampling budget.

Dim sum. Photo:

And while much of the competition is closing retail outlets and increasing a digital presence, he plans to do the opposite by opening four more stores. In addition, according to Griffith, Normandin “shifted almost all of its $4 million annual digital advertising budget into its retail stores.”

[An exception is Amazon which by 2021 expects to have 3,000 stores without registers. People will pay via their smartphones.]


Buying on the honor system is nothing new. Order dim sum in some Chinese restaurants and the waiter will tally the empty little plates on the table when you’re done. Checking yourself out at grocery and other stores similarly counts on customer honesty. Scofflaws could easily hide a few dishes at plate-counting time at the restaurant and pay for every other item in the do-it-yourself checkout line–but most don’t cheat or the system would have already died.

In Vienna, years ago, we were guests of local friends and eight of us sat at a big table. When lunch was over, the host told the waiter what we’d ordered and only then did he write anything down. I wonder if that’s still a custom. In a Scotland Inn if you made yourself a drink or took a soda from an unlocked cabinet in the living room you jotted down your choices. And all over the U.S., especially in rural areas, customers fill cash boxes with money owed for fruits, veggies and flowers at farm stands where nobody is around.

Do you believe that the honor system works equally well in cities as in the country? Can you think of other examples? Will it increasingly be in our purchasing future?



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8 Responses to “Service of the Honor System”

  1. Protius Said:

    I love honor systems and the cultures in which they thrive. I also believe that at least three distinct ingredients must be present in the community for such systems to function at all:

    First, there must be enough total wealth, whether income or assets – not necessarily equally
    distributed – to provide for all.
    Second, how much money you have must not be the primary determinate of your success in life.
    Third, honesty is the most valued of character traits.

    My best story about honor systems is one about my cousin Andrea’s reaction to one here. Because he had an Italian father and an American mother, Andrea spent the war years in Turin where his father worked. Life was not easy in war ravaged Italy, especially as his mother was a citizen of one of Italy’s enemies. When peace came in 1945, she brought Andrea to the States to visit relatives and fatten him up.

    After a month of visiting relatives living in a New York suburb, someone asked him what about this country had made the biggest impression upon him. Andrea replied that it was the way early in the morning that the milkman delivered milk, eggs and butter by leaving them on their customers’ door stoop even though he had not been paid. He said in Turin they would have disappeared within five minutes of being left. He was right.

  2. Jeanne Byington Said:


    Great story. Come to think of it, outside apartment doors are morning newspapers and nobody takes them. And on my walk to work I pass umpteen restaurants that are closed, and yet their fresh bread deliveries hang in bags from hinges or doorknobs and I assume that if they weren’t there when staff arrives, the system wouldn’t work and we wouldn’t see them much longer.

    I also believe your three points are spot-on. And since there continues to be a bigger and bigger gap between the haves and have-nots here, the honor system might be grounded in future. We’ll see.

  3. Nancie Steinberg Said:

    Nancie wrote on Facebook: I love it when farm stands have jars out to put your money in. We once went to a farm which sent you into their garage refrigerator to collect eggs and leave dough $ there. We have done this with roadside carts selling plants too.

  4. Jeanne Byington Said:


    There’s a tiny shed on a winding country road off Rte 22 south of Millerton, NY that sells pumpkins at this time of year and veggies otherwise. Friends found it. I’ve never seen a person—only sheep and maybe a cow. We write down what we’ve taken besides.

  5. Vicki Hidalgo Said:

    Vicki wrote on Facebook: There is also one in Cape May NJ

  6. Jeanne Byington Said:


    I’ve never been but hear Cape May is stunningly beautiful. I love ocean.

  7. Lucrezia Said:

    Too many people cheat, so my vote is a sorrowful no to honor systems.

  8. Jeanne Byington Said:


    Given the number of businesses that have adopted the self-checkout system it must save them money in staff that makes up for losses from theft.

    As for Drug Store in Tribeca, only time will tell if the concept works of hoping people will text their purchase and enter their credit card numbers. Stay tuned!

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