The newest trend in socially-conscious eating is the institution of the pay-what-you-can restaurant. Around the world, more and more of these restaurants are popping up to address the growing need of healthy food access in international metropolitan centers. While details vary between each establishment, they are all founded on the philosophy that everyone should have access to nutritious food. They seek to accomplish this goal by replacing the traditional restaurant fare-based model with a donation-based one. In this way, diners are asked to pay what they feel the meal is worth and even have the option of volunteering in the kitchen in lieu of any monetary payment at all.
The American movement
Panera Cares, an offshoot of the popular Panera Bread restaurant company, was one of the first large corporations to institute this new model. Panera currently operates five community cafes across the United States on a pay-what-you-can model. This means their menus do not list any prices; instead, there are suggested donation amounts that reflect the operating costs of the cafe. Diners are welcome to leave as much as they like as well as volunteer for an hour in exchange for their meal.
Panera Cares community cafes are joined by numerous other institutions in the U.S., such as So All May Eat (SAME) in Denver and the JBJ Soul Foundation’s Soul Kitchen in New Jersey. Operating under the same guiding principles of pay-what-you-can, these restaurants function a bit differently. For example, Soul Kitchen requires a $10 minimum donation or volunteer work while SAME lists no prices or suggested donations, leaving the decision entirely up to the consumer.
These American institutions are joined by similar restaurants around the world such as Lentil as Anything in Melbourne, Australia, which offers a vegetarian menu and follows the SAME model of not listing any prices or donation suggestions. Pay As You Please in Killarney, Ireland, ups the ante by creating an enjoyable lounge atmosphere by screening black and white films and enabling a BYOB alcohol policy. Der Wiener Deewan in Vienna provides hungry patrons not only a pay-what-you-can compensation plan, but also an all-you-can-eat buffet. These are just a few of the international locations embracing a donation-based food service system.
This new trend in socially conscious service signals an opportunity for upcoming chefs. Individuals interested in providing healthful food options to those in need should consider developing creative restaurant concepts that address this growing problem.