You can pay whatever you want — or nothing at all — at this new US restaurant


Eat Café
Eat Café’s Donnell Jones-Craven. Instagram/Eat Café

At Philadelphia, Pennsylvania’s Eat Café, patrons’ checks will look a little different.

Set to open on October 19, the café will only give diners suggested prices to pay. The amount they actually pay is up to the patrons  — they can give more, less, or nothing at all to settle their bills.

The strategy is based on the community café model, Eat Café’s general manager, Donnell Jones-Craven, tells Business Insider.

“These models work when there is a mix of people who can pay more and people who can pay nothing at all,” he says.

The pay-what-you-wish establishment aims to alleviate hunger and close the nutrition gap in West Philadelphia, where about a quarter of locals don’t have access to healthy meals. As first noted by CityLab, Eat Café will be located in a renovated row house in the city.

A three-course meal, which includes a soup or salad, an entrée (e.g. Cuban black beans with braised chicken or pork) with sides, a dessert (e.g. flan cheesecake), and a beverage, will only cost a suggested $15.

Eat Café’s staff will source ingredients from farmers who grow crops within a 150-mile radius of Philly, and the restaurant hopes to get food donated from grocers like Shop-Rite, Whole Foods, and Trader Joe’s. Grocery chain Giant Food will also provide daily donations of items that would normally go to waste, as well as a car to help the staff pick up food from other partners.

Eat Café will be able to sustain its pay-as-you-wish system primarily thanks to grants from corporate sponsors, Jones-Craven says. Plus, generous diners who choose to pay more will help cover the costs for those who pay less than the suggested amount. The staff will also seek monetary donations in order to keep menu prices as low as possible.


The goal of the café is to make sure that everyone who comes has a nutritious meal, even if they can’t pay for it, Jones-Craven says. The eatery will function like a normal restaurant, seating 30 diners at a time, who receive a check at the end of their meals. Only the server and patron will know how much the diner pays, so they won’t feel embarrassed, he adds.

“I want people to have the opportunity to fulfil each other’s need for community — real community, and share experiences, embrace differences and have dignity and respect amongst all,”Jones-Craven says. “The truth is we all need each other.” 

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