Indian Fare With a Side of Generosity

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


Quanta Kiran
Quanta Kiran4 years ago


Martha Eberle
Martha Eberle5 years ago

I LOVE this, and I'll bet the patrons are fair, and pay.

One of my daughters lives in DE, and next time I visit (we always go to D.C.), we're going to go there for Sunday lunch.

What a lovely idea.

Cheryl Jarnicki
Cheryl Jarnicki5 years ago

In Melbourne, Australia a restaurant called Lentil As Anything has operated in this manner for a number of years and is still going strong today. It was originally frequented by students looking for a cheaper meal but these days people from all walks of life are seen there and contributing to keeping it going.

Colin Hope
Colin Hope5 years ago

What a great initiative!

Dhaval M.
Dhaval M.5 years ago

this is an amazing idea!

Norma V.
Norma Villarreal5 years ago

Karma Kitchen rocks with the 'pay it forward' menu.

Yvette T.
Past Member 5 years ago

How amazing. Taking a chance like this, and it is working! I wonder if this can be the seed of change we need worldwide, in every nation, every culture regardless of leadership constraints and levels of religious fascism in power....just take a little step, and soon, we all are compelled to give more than we take? This is a vegetarian restaurant, I hope!!!!

Past Member 5 years ago

great idea...impressive....i really wonder how the one in D.C. is doing...those folks are known more for their selfishness than generosity....i'm not sure i would have put one there to start...and i'm hoping that this place really takes off....i'd support it...

jane richmond
jane richmond5 years ago

Great idea!

Sheri P.
Sheri P.5 years ago

how freakin' cool!!!!!! I love the concept! I would definitely pay it forward and I would volunteer if possible!