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What price a top quality burger? Let the customer decide!

October 30, 2012

How much would you pay for one of the finest burgers in Guadalajara? Think carefully, because in Boqueria restaurant the customers set the prices.

“We are so convinced of the quality of our products that we let you choose the price,” the menu boldly proclaims.

That’s right; when the check comes at the end of your meal, you decide how much you want to pay. This novel concept was dreamed up by Cesar de la Torre, who opened Boqueria in Colonia Americana at the end of March this year.

“It’s going really well,” de la Torre says, with word-of-mouth having spread, meaning he has never needed to put out paid advertisements to attract customers.

The success of the restaurant is entirely reliant upon the honesty of its customers, de la Torre explains: “I give you the best product that I can and I trust you completely to give me a good price.”

The risky gambit of offering potentially free food has paid off, as he says the average amount that customers leave is “high.” The least anyone has paid for a burger is around 45 pesos, while the most is a staggering 280 pesos.

“I’ve always done things differently,” de la Torre explains, when asked why he chose to adopt this business model. “There’s a lot of competition nearby and I wanted to set us apart from the rest.”

He certainly has. From beginning to end, eating at Boqueria is a unique experience. Once seated inside or in the beautiful terrace garden, customers are invited to fill out their own order, writing their name and circling their choices on the simple menu.

The menu features six types of burger, ranging from beef, lamb, portobello mushroom and shrimp and salmon, accompanied with ingredients such as caramelized onions, salad, chorizo, bacon and several different cheeses. Although de la Torre uses quality, locally sourced and largely organic ingredients, he says he did not want to label his burgers as “gourmet” because the term implies that they are “small or expensive, which they are not.”

Having selected their filling, the customers then choose from five kinds of bread, and their choice of French fries, baby potatoes or potato wedges.

“Every time people come here they will have a different experience,” de la Torre says, because with the burger and bread selections they can create 30 different combinations and pay a different amount every time.

The only priced options are the salads (75 pesos) and drinks (25-55 pesos) – including Criolla, a wonderful craft beer from Veracruz – while signs request that customers make a “donation” of 10 pesos for the mini desserts placed by the exit.

When waiters bring out an order, they use the customer’s name instead of merely announcing the name of the dish. This is one of many little touches that contributes to the friendly, personal experience of eating at Boqueria.

Finally, when the check comes, the customers put in their prices for the burger and fries before adding up the totals themselves.

“People leave thinking, ‘did I pay the right amount or not?’ and it sticks in their mind,” de la Torre says. “This is the toughest part of marketing: making a product stick in the mind after consumption.”

Prior to opening Boqueria, de la Torre ran Turkana and La Medina de Fez, serving up North African and Mediterranean cuisine. The latter was named one of the top 11 restaurants in Mexico by Quien magazine in 2003 and its prestigious clientele included politicians and soccer players, but it was hidden away in the city center and struggled to attract passersby off the streets.

While still driven to create a quality product, de la Torre says he is now more interested in the concept than the specific type of food he serves, and would like to open other restaurants offering pizza or pasta under the same model as Boqueria.

“It’s interesting to work like this,” he says, describing it as a kind of “social experiment.” Another notable aspect of Boqueria is its ecological credentials. There are no plates and the food is brought out in mini baskets, which, like the menus, are made of entirely recycled materials. Even the ramekins are made from maize rather than glass or plastic.

“I want to make people think,” de la Torre says of his approach to the restaurant. “I need people to understand what I’m doing, because if they don’t then I can’t operate.” Thankfully, plenty of customers seem happy to support his daring venture.

Boqueria is on Avenida La Paz 2339, a block and a half west of Avenida Americas/Union. Open Tuesday to Sunday; credit cards not accepted. For more info call (33) 3658-4258 or visit  http://www.facebook.com/BoqueriaBurger.

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