The Long Table: A Radical Restaurant Where You Pay What You Want

The idea succeeds or fails based on human nature.

The Long Table, pay what you want/ can Courtesy Of Author

Imagine going to a restaurant, where you could just pay what you could afford or felt like. Or what you thought the meal was worth. Idealistic claptrap you might think.

Surely cheapskates would throw in a couple of pennies and the financials would never work? You could be right, but that is part of the concept of a social enterprise at Brimscombe Mill near Stroud in the United Kingdom, where philanthropists have set up a project called The Long Table, which I visited yesterday with my brother.


The Long Table Photos by author

The venue is a huge mill complex next to the canal, quite run down, but with lots of character. In London, it would be snapped up and converted into luxury flats for Yuppies, with warehouse lofts and fancy décor, and the sort of kitchen islands that Mrs. Pearce drools over when shown on television. 


The mill must be a nightmare to heat in the winter with high ceilings and lack of insulation, but it made a good space to host the event, with the eponymous long tables, with rows of people enjoying food and conversation, hugger-mugger conviviality much in evidence.

There is a kitchen and bar, and the complex also hosts other enterprises including a furniture restoration business and a cycle repair shop in other parts of the mill.

The Long Table kitchen Photos by author


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Stroud is something of a center for alternative and radical living, an area where The Green Party has its strongest support: the local council is run by a Labour/Green Party coalition.

The ingredients for the food and drinks served at The Long Table are sourced as locally as possible and from ethical suppliers. Some of the ingredients are taken from food waste, produce that retailers would throw out due to imperfections or approaching sell-by dates. The staff are paid a living wage, and there are over twenty employed by the project.

One of the founders says of the project:


“We’re all about radical hospitality…something we’d love you to experience. Because amazing things happen when we eat together. Every hot meal served is pay-as-you-can, so our food is accessible to everyone, regardless of means. It’s not about charity — it’s about dignity, equality, and a community supporting neighbors who need a little help. It’s about creating a space where everyone is welcome to feast, talk, laugh, and find a place.”

At The Long Table, community and great food sit side by side. Whoever you are, whatever your story, pull up a chair and join us as we evolve the very notion of what a restaurant can be. “What if everyone in our community had access to great food and people to eat it with?”

This is the big question we’re here to answer. It’s our guiding light. In a society beset by poor nutrition and social isolation, The Long Table has become a beacon of hope and togetherness since we started in 2018. We’re not just a restaurant, we are a movement. A gathering place where every meal is an opportunity for meaningful connection, to be the change, building community. Come take your seat at the table and have a taste of a hopeful future.”

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The event I attended included a band. Being of, ahem, slightly advanced years, I find loud music difficult, since I can no longer hear what people are saying, but overall it was still a novel and enjoyable experience, and worthwhile to visit the project and get an insight into what it is trying to achieve. My brother was there to support a new work colleague who was the drummer.

The food was delicious, a choice of some spiced fried potatoes with spinach and seeds, or German dumplings, all vegetarian or vegan. We both paid a tenner which seemed a fair price for the meal. I would have paid more but am still feeling my way in the world of retirement and self-employment.

The idea of paying what you can afford is a novel one, clearly open to abuse, but places responsibility on the diner and creates a sense of community, something many may want to support in these days of individualism and encouragement to take as much as we can for as little as possible.

In sharp contrast to the generosity and public-spirited ethos of The Long Table, I was reminded of some recent awful cases of diners elsewhere caught for doing a “dine and dash”, sometimes serial offenders, which have been in the news recently


It seems as though societies only function well up to a certain size, above which sanctions against greed and selfish behavior fail to operate effectively.

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The Long Table concept is a rather lovely one. Some like the idea, and those that can, pay extra to support it, while it is open to potential abuse from those dining for next to nothing.

The idea succeeds or fails based on human nature, which is perhaps not a good omen. Nevertheless, it seems a worthy project, aiming to help those who are struggling. It could only survive within a fairly closed community willing to support it rather than exploit its generosity.


Of course, “pay what you can afford” restaurants are not entirely new. There are other longer-standing examples from around the world, often located in radical cities like Amsterdam, or neighborhoods like Copenhagen’s Christiana. 

The Long Table seems an admirable venture. It is currently facing the need to relocate as the premises it leases are being sold. I was glad to have had an insight into what they have been trying to foster, a sense of community and helping others who are less fortunate, which is a refreshing change from the dominant culture elsewhere.

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John Pearce is the editor of the Eco publication on Medium, and former editor of Green News" and the Green Party magazine “Green World". His writing has been featured in "The Ecologist" magazine, and he is the author of “Gaia - A Faith for the Future” and "The Little Green Book".