I recently met a friend for lunch. He has become a vegan, so in looking for a place to meet, I chose Lentil as Anything. It is not just an establishment offering vegetarian and vegan foods – it has no set prices, and an inclusive philosophy. Their business model differs from most in the hospitality industry, and is a good news business story.
Lentil as Anything believes that everyone deserves a place at the meal table, where stories and culture, are passed on and experiences are socialised. Unfortunately not all people can afford to eat in most restaurants. In this one though, there is a different payment model. It is called “pay as you feel”.
The sign reads:
Sit, eat and enjoy
Pay what you think the meal
and your experiences are worth (money goes in a box, and you make a wish).
The founder and foundation
The first Lentil as Anything restaurant was started in St Kilda, Melbourne in 2000. At first there were prices on the meals offered. After two weeks, they were moved to the “pay as you feel” model.
I think that in businesses that don’t have the the pay as you feel model – where they open up that business to everyone in the community, is fear – fear of people. If we fear the people we live amongst, what sort of life is that?
~ Shanaka Fernando
The business model is obviously working. Lentil as Anything has expanded with restaurants in two cities and moving into events spaces.
- Melbourne – St Kilda, Abbotsford (in the historical Abbotsford Convent building), Footscray and Thornbury
- Sydney – Newtown
How it works
These are not-for-profit businesses run by both paid staff and volunteers. Revenue comes in the form of financial donations, in-kind contributions and volunteering time. The organisation trains people to work in the hospitality industry. They are now expanding into exhibition and events space.
People can get involved through a range of activities including:
- internships – (unpaid) to learn the inner workings of a nonprofit organisation
- art exhibitions
- musical performances
- involvement with school excursions and incursions
Find out more about getting involved here.
Social return on investment
Lentil as anything makes a contribution far beyond the boundaries of its hospitality business. An evaluation of the business’s contribution to employment, education and social inclusion is captured in a short video report on their website here.
The idea of sitting at a shared table, is not new. The idea of sharing experience, skills and knowledge is not new either. But putting it together in a restaurant business the way Lentil as Anything does is encouraging.
This is a good news story worth telling. Do you know of other similar business stories that you could share?