Over 100 pay-what-you-can cafés have sprung up over the US since 2003. In these cozy restaurants, one can sit down to a meal of quality, locally sourced food, either by paying the suggested price, paying less, volunteering one's time, or overpaying so others can eat.
The F.A.R.M. Cafe (Feed All Regardless of Means), Healthy World Cafe, S.A.M.E. Cafe (So All May Eat), Panera Bread, Bon Jovi's Soul Foundation...the numbers are growing as people try to find new ways to make healthy food accessible to all in a way that does not discriminate or centre out.
At Healthy World Cafe in York, none of the diners knows who paid the full amount, who worked in the kitchen for their meal, or that the piano player plays every day in exchange for his lunch. There is no guilt in paying less. There is no applause for paying more.
And it works.
Denise Ceretta opened one of the first of these cafés in Salt Lake City in 2003. She now runs the One World Everybody Eats Foundation, helping others replicate her pay-what-you-can model. “I think the community cafe is truly a hand up, not a handout,” Cerreta says. "You can maintain your dignity."
Judith Manshanden is starting a similar movement in Amsterdam with her GEEF! (Give!) Cafe. See her TED talk below for how the pay-what-you-can model creates connection and trust between people, and how this altruism is part of our DNA and helps our species survive.
These places aren't just in the US and Europe. When you start looking, you find them everywhere.
In my own hometown of Hamilton, ON, I came across the 541 Barton Eatery and Exchange (also known as the Button Cafe). Here, meals are sold at cost. Breakfast might run you $3. When you go up to pay, you have the option of adding one dollar buttons onto your bill. The buttons you buy go into a jar which the area's homeless (and anyone else who needs to) can use as currency to buy meals. (http://m.thespec.com/…/4724170-buttons-at-541-barton-are-ma…)
However, as Judith Manshanden points out in her TED talk, you don't need to start your own restaurant to spread the benefits..."The pay-as-you-can business model is merely a tool. It is the intention behind it that makes the real difference." All businesses and all of our interactions can benefit from the intention, she says. How?
1. Trust that people will respond to you in an honest way.
2. Dare to be vulnerable. Be the first to give.
3. Let go of the assumption that other people are only after maximizing self-interest. They're not.
Here's to bringing sharing, giving, and trust back into commerce!