If you could pay what you wanted for a song, a work of art or a meal, would you pay a penny, full price, or toss a bit extra into the pot?
Radiohead famously experimented with the Pay What You Want (PWYW) concept in 2007 and found that -- given a choice -- the majority of fans still paid full price to download the alternative band's "In Rainbows" album.
The non-profit restaurant "chain" One World Everybody Eats continued the PWYW model. (Two more are set to open this summer) And last week, after less than a month experimenting with a PWYW restaurant in St. Louis, Mo., the national Panera Bread chain announced it was launching two more in the U.S.
Given this resounding endorsement, we took a look at several old and new PWYW eateries and think you should, too.
1-3. Panera Bread - Three locations
The popular bakery and restaurant chain allows customers to either PWYW or work volunteer hours in exchange for payment. The non-profit foundation Panera Cares runs the operation and took in $100,000 in revenue its first month.
Cashiers tell customers the suggested price of their orders and between 60 percent to 70 percent pay the menu amount. Around 15 percent pay a bit more, while the other 15 percent pay less or even walk out paying nothing.
I couldn't locate a specific menu for the PWYW Penera, but the chain is very proud of its menu including soups, salads and fresh baked goods. Their website boasts "Tomatoes that actually taste likes tomatoes," which is enough to intrigue me.
4. One World Café - Salt Lake City
Panera was inspired by One World Café's founding organization, One World Everybody Eats. It's a model that promotes healthy eating and reducing waste while ending world hunger.
The One World Café is the foundation for six of the eight PWYW restaurants listed here. It's one of the oldest PWYW or volunteer restaurants and serves organic, unprocessed foods. It's been a challenge for the non-profit organizers, but they're dedicated to the community-based concept that includes eliminating waste in the food industry.
5. SAME Café - Denver
No menus, no prices, no additives. The goal of Denver's SAME (So All May Eat) Café is to serve food in a "respectful and dignified manner to anyone who walks through the door." Daily selections are made using fresh, organic ingredients, and funded by the donations of patrons. No money? No problem. Volunteer work is gratefully accepted.
According to a Westword review, "(T)he non-profit owes much of its success to the benevolence of mankind and the devotion of its owners, Brad and Libby Birky, (but) it's the food that keeps people coming back, a constantly changing menu of freshly baked pizza, salads, cookies and daily specials."
6. Namaste Comfort Café- Denver
The recently opened Namaste, an extension of Namaste Hospice, offers an interesting twist that explains the "Comfort" portion of its name. All breakfast and lunch menu items are inspired by the stories and recipes of community members who remember their deceased loved ones by the "comfort foods" they once shared.
The folks at Namaste are still collecting recipes and stories: Like the chicken soup Mom always made when you were sick; the meatloaf Dad used to whip up; Grandma’s corn bake; and the chocolate fudge cake you and your sister devoured whenever there was something to celebrate.
7. Cafe 180 - Denver
The Mile High City has its share of PWYW restaurants. Cafe 180, expected to open in late July, will also feature healthy, wholesome options and emphasize simple faire like soup, salad and pizza.
Owner Cathy Matthews was inspired by the SAME Café, as was the Communinity Cafe of Boulder (see below).
8. Community Cafe of Boulder - Boulder
Hot on the heels of Cafe 180 is the Community Cafe, opening this summer just up the road from Denver in Boulder, Colo. The focus here will be on education: Including the source of the food; how waste will be reduced; how the food was prepared and more.
Sandy Robinson, the brains behind Community Cafe, hopes to launch evening classes with topics ranging from composting to job interviewing skills.
A chef for more than 20 years, Robinson also says the cafe wll be about the food. Her focus is cooking for people with dietary restrictions, including those with cancer, diabetes and food allergies, skills she will bring to the new Boulder cafe.
9. Rogue Kitchen and Wet Bar - Vancouver, B.C.
The trendy mid-scale restaurant began offering "suggested prices" for its menu of mini-corn dogs, sushi bombs and steak in late June. Customers at the new eatery are asked to take the "Rogue Oath," a social contract in which diners promise to pay what they believe is fair market value for their meals. Rogue donates any money collected over the menu prices to The Nehemiah Foundation, a non-profit serving the underdog artists of Vancouver.
Rogue's menu is so extensive it requires three downloads to view. Choice selections include Lobster Mac n' Cheese, Sushi Stack and a Coconut Poached Chicken Salad. (One assumes the chicken is poached, not the coconut.)
10. Potager Cafe - Arlington, Texas
The Potager Cafe is also based on the One World Everybody Eats model. It's owned by a spectacular lady named Cynthia who cooks food from scratch every day from high-quality, natural ingredients. No menu and no price, as is the One World policy.
A sample menu includes Lemon-herb Tilapia, Jambalaya and Pear Tart with Caramel Sauce and Dark Chocolate Sprinkles. Small portions with seconds are encouraged for waste and cost control. Even the donation envelopes are recycled from magazine pages.
11. A Better World Café - Highland Park, N.J.
Nicknamed the Robin Hood Restaurant, this New Jersey restaurant opened in October with a unique business model. Graduates and students of Elijah's Promise Culinary School prepare lunches in class and transport the meals each day to the café. Pretty nifty! The majority of foods are locally grown and freshly harvested.
Students whip up some interesting combinations, including everything from Curried Pumpkin Chick Peas over Rice to Vegan Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Pecan Cookies. Listed each day on a dry-erase board is a menu of roughly a dozen items that change each week with suggested prices. One item is free to everyone every day.
12. Weinerei - 3 locations in Berlin, Germany
The Berlin Weinereis are the inadvertent brainchild of Jürgen Stumpf, who moved to the city in 1996 from northern Bavaria, where his family owns a five-hectare vineyard.
Stumpf opened up a small weinerei, serving the family wines, and invited his Argentian-immigrant neighbor to cook for guests on Thursday nights. The new entrepreneurs didn't know what to charge people, so they left it to their customers' discretion. Instead, customers simply rented glasses for €1 and paid for food on the honor system.
Before long the first Weinerei had lines out the door. Today there are three different Weinerie locations in the former East Berlin. The actual bars are simple wine-bottle-laden tables and the bartenders simply say, "You want wine? Take wine. You hungry? I cook for you?" Ask to pay and you're directed towards a ceramic gargoyle's mouth to toss in that single euro for a rented wine glass.
13. One World Spokane - Spokane, Wash.
Another non-profit community kitchen, One World Spokane has served over 5,500 free meals and 6,300 full-volunteer meals since opening in October 2009. All food is organic and supplied by local, sustainable agricultural partners. To help control costs and waste, diners select from three portion sizes and either PWYW or volunteer an hour of their time.
One World also provides a catering service, deli and community garden. Their Everything Cookie is so popular the recipe is included on the One World Spokane website and reproduced here. (The recipe is made for a crowd, so be sure to cut it down for home cooking.)
For the Cookie part, start with:
CREAM 2 lbs. softened butter with
4 cups sugar (or an evaporated, cane-juice sugar) and
4 cups brown sugar.
MIX well and ADD
8 whole eggs
2 tsp. baking powder
2 tsp. baking soda
1 pinch salt and MIX well.
7 cups flour
10 cups oats and MIX well
For the Everything part
MIX together 6-7 cups of whatever you prefer of the following:
COMBINE Cookie and Everything ingredients
PAT into three 8 by 12-inch baking pans
BAKE at 350 degrees for about 30 minutes