I have been reflecting recently on the New Orleans tradition of the Lagniappe (pronounced Lon-yap).
The Lagniappe is charming custom in which the merchant gives a little extra value to the customer in appreciation of the customer’s business. Think of it as the 13th doughnut in a Baker’s Dozen. Just a little token.The tradition goes back in New Orleans as least as far the 19th century where writers, including that chronicler of the Mississippi, Mark Twain, mention it. This custom can be found in other cultures and countries and contributes to the ‘Old World’ feel of New Orleans
Don’t be confused; this isn’t bribe or a kick-back. Although, in thinking about it, this is New Orleans and it’s not beyond belief that this custom may have been bent the wrong way sometime in the past but, that doesn’t represent the best aspects of this practice.
Although you don’t come across it everywhere and despite the passage of time and the pressures of the modern business world, the Lagniappe survives. I was recently perusing menus from various New Orleans restaurants for their holiday season Reveillon Dinners (another tradition I’ll write about soon) and a few offered a Lagniappe in addition to their traditional 4 course prix fixe menus. It may have been a glass of wine or a dessert or, as in one case, a holiday eggnog. Just a little something extra.
You’ll see Lagniappe referred to all over but, don’t be fooled; it’s mostly not in the true ‘ a little something extra’ form. For example, one of my favorite French Quarter hotels list ‘Lagniappe’ on it’s room service menu. Unfortunately, rather than a token of appreciation, it’s an invitation to spend more money on their ‘Lagniappe’ items.
For my part, I hope the custom of the Lagniappe survives and not just in name only but in the true sense in which it began. A token of appreciation for a customer’s business. I don’t expect every business to adhere to it. If everyone did it, it wouldn’t be special. I do hope that a select few will realize that it adds that fraction of uniqueness to New Orleans culture. Enough, I hope, to keep this tradition alive. and with it the old world charm and unique character of the Big Easy.
Have any experience with the Lagniappe custom? Share it with us.