Earlier this year I wrote about Britain’s first zero-waste restaurant. Here’s its opposite: a 100% waste cafe. Not because it throws everything away, but because everything it serves is food that would otherwise have been wasted. That aspect of the Real Junk Food Project isn’t entirely new – there have been pop-up restaurants on that basis, and the Feeding the 5,000 initiative. What is new about this cafe is that it is Britain’s first to take a ‘pay as you feel’ approach to pricing.
At the end of your meal, you pay what you think it was worth. If you can’t afford anything, that needn’t stop you from ordering. You can pay in volunteering time instead, joining the team of volunteer staff who run the cafe. It’s an economic experiment: “Our system transcends monetary transactions and liberates people to use their skills and attributes as well as money to pay for their meals”. It’s an approach that values people for their time, giving people who are out of work a chance to contribute in alternative non-financial ways.
In their first year, the cafe diverted over twenty tonnes of food waste and served over 10,000 meals to people in one of the poorer districts of Leeds. (Understandably, the menu changes every day, depending on what is available. Here is today’s.) There are now a couple of dozen other groups inspired by the model and setting up similar projects.
Besides those new ones, I know of one other eatery that runs on a pay-what-you-like basis, and that’s Soul Kitchen in New Jersey. It’s a community restaurant with no prices, run by the Jon Bon Jovi foundation. I’m sure there are others – but perhaps not very many. Soul Kitchen has the advantage of a big foundation behind it, but the Pay As You Feel cafe is an activist project and flying by the seat of its pants – a grassroots reaction to food waste and poverty.
And that has its risks. The Leeds cafe has enjoyed discounted rent for its first year, but now needs to buy the building it occupies or move somewhere else. They need £130,000 by the New Year to buy it, and the money is being raised through the community. If you would like to chip in, you can do so on their website.