Have you ever heard of the EAT Café? The clue is EAT stands for Everyone At the Table. This is a non-profit collaboration of organizations in West Philadelphia, PA, that operates a “pay-what-you-can café that nourishes, educates, and unites community in a welcoming environment.” Here the bill is a shock of a different sort — it reads “The total is only a suggested price. Please write here the amount you wish to pay.”
According to their website (http://www.eatcafe.org/, the menu is from this website), nearly one in four people in Philadelphia is “food insecure.” The objective is to serve a high-quality meal to anyone who walks in; patrons pay what they can afford. Some pay more, some a few dollars, or maybe nothing at all. The idea has become especially popular with college students. The restaurant has a secondary mission to “engage the community through various activities, events, and educational programming. Future programming will include culinary arts and workforce readiness training.”
I heard about this through an article in my local newspaper, the Dayton Daily News (https://www.highbeam.com/doc/1P2-40415713.html , subscription required to read the full article). According to this account, EAT is one of about 50 experimental restaurants that provide a new way to think about food assistance. Each has its own approach, from Christian charity to purely secular. There is a One World Everybody Eats foundation to tie the concept together (https://www.oneworldeverybodyeats.org/).
How successful will this idea be? Running a restaurant is hard enough; the first year failure rate is as high as 60 percent. Now imagine an eatery where payment is optional.
Fortunately, I’m very “food secure.” But this sounds preferable to begging on a street corner. I wish them well.