The April, 2008 issue of Budget Travel includes a wonderful piece on pay-what-you-want restaurants worldwide. We had no idea this was even a trend, but this little roundup gives four examples, including two in the U.S., one in Europe and one in Australia.
The idea is that you go into one of these restaurants, eat like normal and then pay what you feel is appropriate by dropping some cash into a box or using a customer-operated credit card machine. This seems, weirdly, both intimidating and welcoming. It's nice to feel like you're trusted, but it might be intimidating to feel you're essentially rendering judgment on the place by the amount you leave. What if it wasn't that good? Should you stiff them?
While the pay-what-you-like trend reminds us of these underground kitchens that are taking hold in various urban centers, it seems there is much more at stake. The casual dinners thrown at someone's house are simply a nice thing to do and would stop if they weren't fun and/or financially viable.
These restaurants, on the other hand, pin the financial health of the owners and staff on the fair-mindedness and generosity of their customers. It seems to us an experiment that puts a huge amount of faith in humanity and would be very depressing if it failed.