It Just Might Work: Sliding-scale dining

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by Kelly Fahey

Last Friday I ate at a restaurant in downtown Asheville called Rosetta’s. The food is delicious and a large portion of the menu is either vegetarian or vegan. What makes this restaurant stand out even more is its pay-what-you-can option. Rosetta’s offers a rice and bean plate for a minimum of $2 and a suggested contribution of $6.

The idea is that if you can afford to spend $6 on your meal, you will. Your contribution is what makes it possible for people to eat that may only be able to pay two bucks for a meal. And this rice and bean plate is no joke either. It’s well worth the full freight. It’s a generous portion of food, and it even comes with a side of chips.

So why aren’t more restaurants doing this? Rosetta’s does not stand alone in the sliding-scale dining world. Jon Bon Jovi’s Soul Kitchen in Red Bank, NJ is entirely donation based. Yet, to my knowledge, no restaurant in the Triad has a sliding scale menu option.

Everybody should be able to eat, even if it means that a restaurant doesn’t necessarily profit from it. The few dollars that one would pay for their rice-and-bean plate at Rosetta’s covers the ingredients and pays the person making it, so even if everyone pays the bare minimum, the restaurant walks away without losing money. At least, that’s what it says on the menu at the restaurant.

Yet, I’m of the belief that a sliding-scale menu will in no way detract from a restaurant’s profits. The majority of costumers will likely be more than happy to pay a little extra to help feed the people who can’t afford to pay more than the bare minimum, and with a sliding scale, you appeal to a much wider customer base. If all of your menu options are overpriced, it’s tough to be the most popular restaurant in town.

But mostly, and this is the kicker, people are more likely to eat at a place that is owned and run by a proprietor that wants to feed people that can’t afford to eat. It’s common sense.