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February 9, 2016

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Honesty experiment: To pay or not to pay for that drink when no one is watching?

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Steve Marcus

Nilton and Sumico Abel of Brazil look over bottles of tea at a self-service Honest Tea kiosk on the Las Vegas Strip Monday, Aug. 13, 2012. Observers from the tea company watched from a distance and recorded how many people paid for the tea and how many did not. The Honest Cities social experiment is being held in 50 locations in 30 cities.

How Honest Is Las Vegas?

A man drops a dollar bill into a box as he buys a bottle of tea at a self-service Honest Tea kiosk on the Las Vegas Strip Monday, Aug. 13, 2012. Observers from the tea company watched from a distance and recorded how many people paid for the tea and how many did not. The Honest Cities social experiment is being held in 50 locations in 30 cities. Launch slideshow »

As Sinan Karatoy trudged northward on the Las Vegas Strip in the triple-degree desert heat Monday afternoon, he came across what must have seemed like an oasis: a small tent stocked with cold bottles of iced tea priced at $1 each.

There was no attendant at the booth, and only a small plastic box was set out to collect payment for the tea. With seemingly no one watching him, Karatoy was faced with the dilemma of whether he should pay for the drink or try to sneak off with one for free.

“I paid for it. It’s the honor system,” said Karatoy, who was visiting Las Vegas from Istanbul, Turkey.

The small tent set up near the Coca-Cola Store on the Strip was actually a social experiment sponsored by beverage makers Honest Tea.

Hidden out of sight, three Honest Tea employees monitored the tent for several hours Monday, tracking how many people paid for the tea when given the opportunity not to.

“You watch people, they look around to see what’s going on. They get that guilty conscious and they end up just paying for it,” said Ryan Vandegriendt, a marketing manager with Honest Tea.

Honest Tea’s honesty experiment is in its third year, and this year will survey 50 locations in 30 cities nationwide. Next Monday, the company will release the results from the surveys and rank the different cities based on how many people followed the honor system and paid for their drink.

Joe Stemmer, a marketing manager with Honest Tea, said the experiment is a fun way for the company to interact with its customers while also promoting its brand.

“We only use honest ingredients,” Stemmer said. Honest Tea uses organic, fair-trade certified ingredients in its teas, and focuses on sustainability in both its ingredients and its packaging, he said.

The early returns from Monday’s survey paint Las Vegas in a positive light, with 207 bottles purchased and only 11 taken without payment, for an honesty index of 95 percent, compared with the national average of 88 percent.

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Actor Donn Harper, dressed as Elmo, cools down after buying some tea from a self-service Honest Tea kiosk on the Las Vegas Strip Monday, Aug. 13, 2012. Observers from the tea company watched from a distance and recorded how many people paid for the tea and how many did not. The Honest Cities social experiment is being held in 50 locations in 30 cities.

Vandegriendt speculated the day’s 106 degree temperatures and the relatively low amount being asked for a bottle of iced tea helped drive the high honesty rate.

“Especially around here, it’s going to cost $3 to get a drink anywhere else,” he said. “This location is not going to attract Las Vegas locals, but the Las Vegas crowd is people from everywhere. And where are they? On the Strip.”

Donn Harper spent much of his Monday observing people come and go from the Honest Tea booth from the anonymity of the Elmo costume he was wearing.

Harper, who was entertaining passers-by near the tent, helped himself to several bottles over the course of the day.

“I’m honest. I paid,” Harper said. “It’s a little warm out here, so the tea’s really been helping me get through the day.”

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