How much would you be willing to pay, not only for a good meal, but for good Karma? This is the question asked by recent patron of the Karma Kitchen.
Started in Berkeley, California, Karma Kitchen is a “volunteer-driven experiment in generosity.” What does that mean, you ask. It is a restaurant at which your bill always reads nothing. Your meal has been paid for by the people who came before you; and according to Karma Kitchen, you can’t pay them back, but you can pay it forward, by paying what you can for the next patrons.
The entire operation runs on a system of gift economy, goods and services. In this case, a Sunday lunch given entirely free of charge and without obligations. See, Milton Friedman? There really is such a thing as a free lunch. While you do not have to contribute anything, the hope is that getting a gift from an anonymous stranger will encourage you to do the same for someone else (but if your heart, like the Grinch’s, is four times too small, then yes, it’s completely free.)
While the patrons all seem to enjoy the experience, many also return to volunteer. With the exception of the cook, the entire staff of Karma Kitchen is volunteers from all walks of life. One Karma Kitchen alum is an exchange student at Berkeley, who was shown kindness when she first arrived in the United States and wants to pay it forward.
Karma Kitchen is completely sustained through giving and uses any profit generated toward funding other initiatives in the community. They have three locations which all serve Sunday lunch: Berkeley, Washington, D.C., and most recently, Chicago. The volunteers have recently seen some other pay-as-you-wish restaurants, including over 7,000 Honesty Cafés in Indonesia.
Photo credit: via Flickr by Panoramas