July 13, 2013

Tea company tries honesty experiment in Kennebunk

Honest Tea sets up an honor system stand Friday and monitors people's actions.

By Karen Antonacci kantonacci@mainetoday.com
Staff Writer

KENNEBUNK – Hagen Roetz examined the unattended stand stocked with ice-cold teas and lemonades 10 feet from the Clam Shack on Friday before digging a dollar bill out of his pocket, putting it into an honor-pay box and grabbing a pomegranate drink.

click image to enlarge

Honest Beverages marketing managers Cristina Sadler and James Varrichio keep a covert eye out on a self-service honor system booth they set up on Western Avenue in Kennebunk on Friday, July 12, 2013. Honest Tea is conducting social experiments in all 50 states & Washington, D.C., to see how honest people are when no one is looking. Honest Beverages marketing intern Michael Strazzula, keeps track of the experiment on a tablet at left.

Carl D. Walsh/Staff Photographer

click image to enlarge

As part of a social experiment to see how honest people are when nobody is looking, Honest Tea placed an honor system booth on Western Avenue in Lower Village, Kennebunk, and observed from across the street on Friday, July 12, 2013.

Carl D. Walsh/Staff Photographer

While he didn't know it, stationed across the street and trying to blend in with summer tourists, an employee of the Honest Tea company quietly pushed a "paid" button on an iPad. Roetz had passed the honesty test. The German tourist will contribute to Maine's honesty rating as part of Honest Tea's honor system social experiment.

The Maryland-based beverage company wants to find the most honest state in the nation, by setting up similar honor system stands in 53 communities throughout the country. The premise is simple: People are invited to take one of the company's drinks and slip a $1 bill into a Lucite box, but nobody will force them to.

At the Kennebunk stand on Western Avenue, 30 people had gotten a tea by noon, according to James Varrichio, the Northeast regional marketing manager for the company. Almost all of them paid the dollar, he said.

Asked afterward about his decision to leave the dollar, Roetz said he paid partly because he knew of a restaurant in Switzerland with a "pay-what-you-want" system, and the stand reminded him of similar honor systems back home.

"In Europe, people pay for potatoes and strawberries that are out on street stands that way," he said, sipping the pomegranate lemonade. "Just to steal it makes yourself small in a way, so people don't do it, I think."

By noon, the Honest Tea team had seen only one person take a bottle without paying at the Kennebunk stand.

"He was a teenager and he was alone," explained Sivan Gompers, an Honest Tea summer intern and Harvard University student.

This is Honest Tea's fifth year conducting the social experiment, but the first year to do it in all 50 states. Last year, the company didn't come to Maine, but set up stands in 30 cities. Boston was 96 percent honest on average, but the Fenway Park stand clocked in at 100 percent. Washington, D.C., was 95 percent honest and New York City was 92 percent honest, on average. The least honest location for 2012 was Atlantic Terminal in Brooklyn, N.Y., where almost 40 percent of people took a free drink.

Nancy DiMuro dropped a dollar bill in the box and took a pomegranate lemonade for the trip back to New York's Hudson Valley after a couple of days in Maine. She said she thought Maine would do well in the honesty ratings, but New York City, not so much. Her daughter, Gaby DiMuro, laughed and disagreed.

"Oh, the city gets a bad rap. There are plenty of honest people in New York City," Gaby DiMuro said.

Kennebunk's stand will represent Maine in this year's results, as no others are planned for the state. Results will be available July 23 at TheNationalHonestyIndex.com.

Karen Antonacci can be contacted at 791-6377 or at:

kantonacci@pressherald.com

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