Our Experiments in Gift Economy Dining

Dear Friends,

Over the last decade, we launched a series of diverse experiments in gift economy dining and have been deeply inspired by the world's response to 'the taste of generosity'. What we are seeing now is a growing global movement, from vibrant initiatives in major cities across the United States, and across the Indian subcontinent, to pilots in Tokyo, Italy and the Philippines.

The gift spirit has manifested in a few different ways within this space. For the clarity of guests and volunteers we name and categorize these efforts based on mode of operation, frequency and setting. Below are the definitions for three distinct manifestations of the gift economy dining experience:

Seva Cafe: The original and most well-known Seva Cafe exists in Ahmedabad, India where it has been in operation since 2005. The name Seva Cafe is used for all of our gift-economy restaurants that run multiple days a week in their own restaurant space and have a full-time support staff who work alongside the volunteer teams.

Karma Kitchen: The original Karma Kitchen opened its doors in 2007 in Berkeley, California, and there are now chapters in multiple locations in the USA, as well as one overseas. The name Karma Kitchen is used for gift-economy spaces that are entirely volunteer-run, and operate on a regular (monthly or weekly) basis, and are housed in an existing restaurant space on a partnership basis. More is described in this Guide to Starting a Karma Kitchen.

Smile Cafe: This is a broad umbrella term used for all other experimental pilots in this space :) Although operated by volunteers, the space in question need not be a restaurant; it can also be hosted without regularity and the financial contribution mode can also be experimented with. For instance, volunteers in Ahmedabad hosted a space at a week-long craft fair, where every night they catered food from a local restaurant that was offered on a pay-what-you-wish basis (different from pay-forward). They had a different group of community volunteers running the space each night (different groups of doctors, entrepreneurs, students etc responsible for different days). In certain instances volunteers can even choose to give their experiment a name of its own. But these are classified under the Smile Cafe category.

The overall idea is to retain a consistent meaning to these labels, as they pop-up around the world.

Let us know how you'd like to engage, and we look forward to support.