What happens when a Google (NASDAQ:GOOG) programmer steps into a bar while on vacation in Vietnam, has a few, and starts talking philosophy?

Yet another coffee shop in the Seattle area, of course.

Before I bore you too soon, let me add that this ain't your regular Starbucks (NASDAQ:SBUX) knockoff. At Terra Bite Lounge, menu prices and cash registers are suspiciously absent.

In a late-night bar conversation turned social experiment/business model, Ervin Peretz and his girlfriend, Susie Allsup, opened their "upscale voluntary payment cafe/deli" last year in an affluent suburb of Seattle.

Inspired by their philosophical belief that people are basically good -- an idea not uncommon to the culture of capitalism's great success stories over the past couple of decades, including Peretz's former employer and eBay (NASDAQ:EBAY) -- they believe enough people will pay without being asked to run a profitable business.

The store's "cash register" is a gray box where customers are encouraged to pay, at their convenience, what they would elsewhere. Of course, not paying at all is always an option. According to the owners, revenue averages $3 per order and the store is close to breaking even.

Okay, so this might be good fodder for discussion in a philosophy classroom, but is there any reason for hard-nosed corporations to see any value in this social experiment?

Only time will tell, but I think there is something to this idea. To start with, Terra Bite Lounge provides the model for how it could work in the for-profit world. They run a cost-efficient business, saving on labor costs since there is no cash register to operate, not to mention time spent making change or signing credit card receipts.

Secondly, we are already familiar with another common voluntary payment system: tipping your server when you eat out. It's not perfect, but it works.

If nothing else, it's clear that modern business is beginning to think outside traditional practices. Electronics retailer Best Buy (NYSE:BBY) is beginning to experiment with their Results-Only Work Environment in retail stores, turning the old top-down model of management setting work schedules on its head.

While a small mom-and-pop might pull it off, voluntary payment is likely a bit too radical for corporations. When was the last time you felt like paying more for airline tickets or an ATM withdrawal, just out of the goodness of your heart? I didn't think so.

Yet just as Best Buy is seeking to cast off the authoritarian corporate structures left over from the Industrial Age, perhaps customer relationships will soon become more open to negotiation.

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Fool contributor Jason Ramage owns shares of Best Buy. His CAPS rating is 13,963 out of 24,666. The Fool has a disclosure policy.