Have you ever been to a restaurant where you can decide how much you want to pay for the cost of your meal? It may sound like a recipe for certain failure, but that’s how a handful of restaurants around the world operate, including Denver, Colorado’s So All May Eat (SAME) Café. At the Denver eatery, wealthy diners rub elbows with the homeless, all taking the time to enjoy the café’s delicious organic cuisine. There are no set prices for anything on the menu—instead, diners simply pay whatever they can afford to for the meal. “We operate on a pay-what-you-want model,” co-owner Brad Birky explained to Westword Magazine. “So we have no set prices. We let our customers pick what they want to eat and then pay afterward, however much they wish. If you can't pay anything, then we ask you to volunteer an hour helping in the cafe."Some will pay $10 or more for the café’s pizzas and salads, while others have no money to give. Those who cannot afford to chip in for their meals are asked to volunteer an hour of time washing dishes in the kitchen, but the request is not enforced. In fact, diners are simply asked to place their payment in an envelope after they’ve finished their meal. Their payments will not be counted until after they leave the premises.Surprisingly few people take advantage of this trust-based system—the average cost paid per meal is about $3, and the restaurant’s expenses average to about $2 per meal. While the restaurant doesn’t make much of a profit, that was never its intention. The founders, Brad and Libby Birky, created the nonprofit café as an alternative to a soup kitchen—a place where people would actually like eating so much that even those who could afford it would come and pay for their food, covering the costs for those who didn’t have money to spare. Since opening two years ago, SAME Café is busier than ever, with plenty of customers willing to pay full price for their meals. The restaurant now serves over 15,000 diners every year—and the Birkys are making sure that no one in their neighborhood will ever go hungry again.How you can help: Even if you don’t live close enough to eat at the SAME Café, you can reward them for their good karma by making a donation to the restaurant, or to a similar pay-what-you-want nonprofit eatery, such as One World Everybody Eats in Salt Lake City, Utah. You can also make a contribution to a traditional food-relief charitable organization, such as Feeding America (formerly America’s Second Harvest).
Photo by wEnDaLicious