Parties That Cook Explores the Unconventional: Pay-What-You-Want Restaurant Pricing

There’s a new Chicago restaurant in the works that’s generating a lot of buzz these days. Most recently, it was a Daily Candy article that sparked my interest in ING. No, I didn’t forget the verb in this present participle. ING happens to stand for Imagining New Gastronomy; and executive chef Thomas Bowman does just that. Not only does he use miracle berries (a REAL African fruit that has the power to make sour and bitter foods taste sweet) in some dishes, but there is a pay-by-the-hour option for those who live by a schedule.

Call me silly, but it was the unconventional pricing structure that really caught my attention. (We’ll save the miracle berries for another day.) I couldn’t help but wonder what other ways restaurants are making a profit– or at least covering costs.

Research led me to a few restaurants that actually have faith in their fellow man –and woman! One World Cafés in Baltimore & Salt Lake City, SAME (So All Might Eat) Café in Denver, and Panera Bread Foundation’s Panera Cares Cafés throughout the country all implement pay-what-you-want pricing. Because they use the freshest of ingredients, menus change daily at some of these restaurants. Prices are suggested, but not enforced. At One World Café, if a customer does not have enough to meet the suggested price, they are encouraged to volunteer their time in the garden or kitchen. Neither SAME Café, nor Panera Cares Café even has a cash register! Instead, a donation box is available for patrons to pay what they felt their meal was worth, or to leave a little more and help out someone less fortunate.

You might have a hard time believing that, for the most part, these cafes don’t have issues with funding –I can’t be the only skeptic! Sure, some people take advantage of the lack of set prices, but most people meet suggested price levels if they donate generously. This must explain why the US is not alone in implementing this pricing structure –we aren’t even the first to try it out!

If you have the opportunity to, definitely stop in and visit one of these amazing cafes! Who wouldn’t want to support an organization whose philosophy is “that everyone, regardless of economic status, deserves the chance to eat healthy food while being treated with dignity”?

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