Economics 101. There‘s no such thing as a free lunch

The very first time I flew I must have been about 12, it was with my sister. It was just a short flight from New York to Georgia. We declined the nuts and an on-board drink because we didn’t have any cash with us. Simple economics, no money no commodity. Nobody told us they were included in the price!


The first time I heard the phrase ‘There’s no such thing as a free lunch’ was in an economics class at college. The professor there told us about the Nobel Prize-winner Milton Friedman. Friedman, I believe, also wrote a book with that title, although he didn’t coin the phrase. Basically, it means nothing is free; if you want something you or someone else pays for it. Something even a 12 year old instinctively knows. What we didn’t know back then, because we hadn’t paid for the ticket, was a plane ticket costs a lot. They can throw in an additional Coke and still not lose money. Making money is the name of the game.

Restaurants in Switzerland are mainly there for meals but not only. Between meals lots of customers just come in for a cup of coffee, similar to a coffee shop. To make money they entice their customers with bakery fresh, super smelling crescents or sandwiches. Everything strategically placed in baskets on each table. Irresistible and delicious. Everyone knows that you have to pay for what you eat. Well, almost everyone. I have two friends from the States who hiked across Europe one summer on a very limited budget. They thought that the croissants were included in the price of the drinks and dug in. After all, they were on the table and my friends hadn’t ordered them. Maybe the waitress moved a basket with fresh croissants to the table after she brought the drinks, who knows. Whatever, they only thought that once, after that they knew they weren’t.

The Minibars

Another novel idea to make money is called the minibar in trains. Trains basically have a captive audience, so why not go up and down the aisles with a cart and sell snacks and drinks? I think the idea is neat. More than once I have bought hot tea and a chocolate crescent to enjoy during a train ride. Usually they sell chocolate, chips, coffee and tea and sometimes sandwiches. Once we were on a train where they sold hot dogs. I guess not all minibars are made equal. The prices are exuberant but that is the price that has to be paid when someone comes to you with the food. So, be sure you have the necessary extra cash on hand. Again, it would seem obvious that you would pay for the refreshments, but yet again, not to everyone.

We have a friend who came to work in Switzerland with his wife and two children. On the train from Zurich to Berne a minibar came by offering snacks and drinks. They ordered up a storm having just gotten off a plane where the refreshments and meals were included in the price. Being their first train ride in Switzerland they thought that must be the same for trains. The cost of 4 train tickets to Berne without any reductions is considerable so the thought isn’t that strange. I believe the price they paid for the snacks from the minibar would have paid for a good dinner for four at any decent restaurant. They ended up in Berne with absolutely no extra change.

End of an era

Alas, the minibar era will soon be coming to an end. The train company announced that as of the end of 2017 no more minibars will roam the aisles. They said that places to buy food are no longer limited; train stations have so many areas that sell snacks along with the usual dining wagons and even a Starbucks wagon or two in the train itself. Minibars just no longer make a profit. Again, economics; what makes no profit has to go. Sad, but true. So, if you want to eat a little snack while in a train, be sure to plan enough time to buy something before you get on the train.

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: