|Restaurant lets patrons pay what they can|
|Published Monday, February 19, 2018|
RALEIGH – “It’s a hand up not a handout,” said Maggie Kane of her new pay-what-you-can restaurant in downtown Raleigh.
A Place at the Table opened last month and is getting attention from big businesses in the community, including Blue Cross Blue Shield and Whole Foods. These companies and many others have given large donations to support Kane and her mission to serve people from all walks of life. “We wanted to create a place where everyone could be served good, healthy food with dignity,” said Kane.
The model works on an 80/20 system. They need 80 percent of customers to pay the suggested menu price and sometimes donate by tipping or purchasing a meal token. Those contributions allow the other 20 percent of customers to receive a free meal, which they can pay for with a token or volunteer their time in exchange for food.
“So far the model is working really well,” said Kane. “People in Raleigh are so good. We have many people buying the $10 meal tokens for others. And all the tips we receive go toward free meals, so everyone’s been extra generous.”
People can purchase the meal tokens and give them to someone they know, like a gift card, or they can leave the token at the restaurant to be offered to someone in need. The jar of tokens is placed near the door so people can grab one as they walk in to order.
The menu is filled with healthy options for breakfast and lunch, including Avocado Toast, Kale and Turnip Caesar salad, and a Smokey Chipotle Pimento Cheese sandwich. A wide variety of dietary restrictions are accommodated and clearly listed on the menu, with gluten free, vegan and vegetarian options.
Even though there are more than 60 pay-what-you-can restaurants worldwide, including a successful store in Boone, A Place at the Table is the first attempt in an expanding urban, downtown setting.
“We needed something different for Raleigh since it’s such a growing city. We want it to feel like a true restaurant, nothing like a soup kitchen, and we think we hit that balance between fancy and welcoming,” said Kane.
The décor fits the downtown scene with clean lines, lots of light from the large window front, and two floors of seating. On the first floor near the windows, patrons will find a community table with instructions listed on a card inviting people to sit down and meet someone new, further encouraging the restaurant’s mission to build relationships.
Kane first started to pursue the dream of opening the restaurant three years ago. She worked in nonprofits after college and recognized a need for bridging the gap between the rich and poor. The more she told people about her idea, the more people wanted to get involved.
“The whole restaurant is a collection of so many peoples’ ideas and donations. People love getting behind ideas like this. No one disagrees with good food and community,” said Kane.
In these early days of running a restaurant, Kane and her staff are facing some challenges unique to their pay-what-you-can model. “We are still figuring things out, especially the volunteer opportunities we offer,” she said. “We have so many people volunteering, and we want to figure out the best roles for everyone. It would be great if the restaurant could run on volunteers one day.”
By working together with local restaurants and nonprofits, Kane is confident they can figure out a volunteer system soon, as well as tackle the other demands of the restaurant. She plans to keep reaching out to her support system and bridging relationships between businesses and customers. It’s the community aspect that motivates her more than anything.
“It keeps me going to know that this is working, and people are finding a good, healthy meal – and community,” she said.
A Place at the Table is at 300 West Hargett Street, Suite 50. The restaurant hours are 7 a.m. to 2 p.m. Tuesday through Friday, and 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday and Sunday.
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