This Year's Business Model: Restaurants Without Food

You may have read earlier stories on this blog about a pay-what-you-wish bakery in Canada, a pay-what-you-wish coffee shop in Washington state, and pay-what-you-wish granola at a Miami supermarket.

Here’s another pay-what-you-wish eating story, but in this case, you have to bring your own food. That’s right. On King Island in Tasmania, Australia, there’s an old boathouse that’s been converted into a rustic harborside restaurant where patrons cook their own meals. They leave behind money for the use of the building in an “honesty duck” — i.e., a box decorated with a toy duck.

“People really, really love the concept of trust and that’s to me half the reason why we’re running it, because I respond to that,” the proprietor Caroline Kininmonth told Eleanor Hall of The World Today. “It’s a very childlike feeling.”

There is nothing in the article about average payments. The real estate business being what it is versus the food business being what it is, and considering how much people love to cook, I wouldn’t be surprised if a restaurant without food is a lot more profitable than one with food. I recall that Cosmo Kramer once had a plan for a make-it-yourself pizzeria. Can anyone out there tell us about a setup similar to this Australian one in the U.S.?

(Hat tip: Chuck Falzone, via

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  1. d says:

    A restaurant without food a campground: i.e. a bunch of picnic tables and a grill.

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  2. Aeirlys says:

    There’s a place not far from where I live called Dinners Divine. You make an appointment and then go in and prep a week’s worth of meals in advance. They provide the set-up, ingredients, and clean-up. You leave with 5 or 6 meals that you then have to take home and cook.

    Personally, I’ve always wondered why you can’t just buy them prepared.

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  3. Adam says:

    Dream Dinners is food without the restaurant, but it too lets you cook your own food. I’ve never used it, but they are a nation-wide chain.

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  4. Mike says:

    Why am I going to this restaurant? I have to bring my own food and cook it myself. That’s hardly a restaurant at all. Seems the only thing to gain is the use of a good kitchen, good tools, and a large dining area. I can’t say I would pay a whole lot for that.

    Also, I don’t know about Australia, but the American legal system being what it is, it seems to me the liability on a place like that would have to be crippling. The first time someone chops off the end of their thumb, or spills boiling water on another diner/chef and you’re shut down.

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  5. Alex says:

    Don’t get me wrong, I would love to work in a really nice kitchen. However, I’m curious about liability. Having been a part of the restaurant industry, liability is a crucial element of a professional kitchen. Kitchens are extremely dangerous (sharp and heavy objects, very hot areas, potentially industrial mixers, etc), particularly for the uninitiated.

    Also, it would seem that there would be greater risk of food borne illnesses as a result of people failing to follow proper food safety procedures (such as keeping certain surfaces meat free, or properly cleaning up work spaces).

    It is a fun idea to be sure, but there are certainly some additional risks to be considered!

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  6. Robin says:

    Do the patrons also do the dishes? I’d pay to use a kitchen if someone else is cleaning up.

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  7. Brian Kirk says:

    there is, or should i say was (before they went out of business) a steakhouse here in austin called U R Cooks. the idea was that they supplied the meat & you were given the opportunity to grill your meat the way you like it.

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  8. Molly says:

    In San Diego, there is a restaurant called The Turf Club, in which you buy raw meat and use a large, communal grill to cook. I too wonder about the liability issues (as I almost burned myself last time I was there), but there is something fun about standing around a grill with people you don’t know, cooking your own food. And in this case, the steaks are much cheaper than in a restaurant where the food is cooked for you. The cooking becomes part of your evening’s entertainment.

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