What is a Lagniappe?

Posted on 10 Mar 2015 04:49

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A lagniappe (lan-Yap) is an old Louisiana tradition, especially in the French Quarter of New Orleans. The word is known somewhat in other Gulf states, including Texas, but it started in Louisiana, where it is found as part of the name of many businesses. Grocery store owners, as well as other shop-keepers, would use the lagniappe as a way of thanking customers for their patronage.

A lagniappe is a present given to customers who purchase groceries or other items at retail stores, especially to children, who were said in the old days of New Orleans to not only look forward to their lagniappe, but to ask for it. Grocery stores, especially, competed for business by trying to put together the best lagniappe, whether it be baked treats or other sweets, fruits, etc. The tradition is similar to the Baker's Dozen where a little something extra is given but instead is any small gift given to a customer at the time of purchase. A lagniappe may also be a tip in recognition of services.

As well, the word lagniappe might be applied to any unexpected bonus that comes with something else. For example, if you bought a car and found a 50 dollar bill in the trunk, it would be a lagniappe.

Mark Twain described the lagniappe in his book Life on the Mississippi published in 1883:

We picked up one excellent word—a word worth traveling to New Orleans to get; a nice limber, expressive, hand word—'lagniappe.' They pronounce it lanny-yap…The custom originated in the Spanish quarter of the city. When a child or a servant buys something in a shop—or even the major or the governor, for aught I know—he finishes the operation by saying 'Give me something for lagniappe'. The shopman always responds; gives the child a bit of licorice-root, gives the servant a cheap cigar or a spool of thread, give the governor—I don't know what he gives the governor; support, likely.

Origin of the Word Lagniappe

The word lagniappe came from the Spanish word la ñapa, meaning which meant a free bonus. La ñapa, in turn, is thought to have been brought to New Orleans during Spanish colonial days. The Spanish got it from the Quechua word yapa, meaning much the same thing. It first appeared in English in 1849, but hasn't spread far from the South. Other words for the same concept are known in South America, such as añadidura or adehala.

Although the tradition is not nearly as widespread as it once was, it is still sometimes observed. It is said that shopkeepers tried to put an end to the practice in the 1800's, but the people objected strenuously, so they had no choice but to keep giving a little something extra. It is not certain whether this story is true.

Businesses Which Use Lagniappe in Their Name

There is a mini-chain of restaurants, with two locations, called Louisiana Lagniappe. One location is in Destin, Florida, and the other is in Orange Beach, Alabama. There is also a Louisiana Lagniappe restaurant in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, whose logo appears to be virtually identical to the other restaurants, but it is unclear whether they are connected.

Other Restaurants

  • Lagniappe Cajun Creole Eatery - Marquette, Michigan
  • Lagniappe Brasserie - New Berlin, WI

The Lagniappe Theatre Company operates out of Alexandria, Louisiana. Louisiana Langiappe Realty also operates from Alexandria, Louisiana. Others are:

  • Lagniappe Motors - New Iberia, LA
  • Lagniappe newspaper - Mobile Alabama
  • Lagniappe Pharmacy Service - Fort Worth, Texas
  • Lagniappe & Castillo Research (Private Investigator) - Mansfield, Louisiana
  • Lagniappe Auto Title - West Monroe, LA

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