Social Restaurant
Letter to Friends around the World # 86

Near to Setubal, Portugal, there is a ‘Social Restaurant’ where every day 115 meals are served, at prices which vary according to the means of the customer. A lot of customers pay nothing, others 10, 20, 30 or 40 pence.

About 4 years ago we started collecting unused food from restaurants, and we distributed it to people in need. But we soon realised that we needed to do something different as it was too difficult for older people, for example, to wait until midnight for us to bring them a meal – at midnight, in the middle of winter, in the rain…And we also thought that we should do something where everyone could be involved.

After consulting with everybody in the neighbourhood, the ‘Social Restaurant’ was born to create a better solution to the need to address hunger. Now, we start by going to see people to assess the family’s economic situation and after this we can ask them for a financial contribution. This contribution is welcomed by them and one person said:‘I pay for my meal, I’m contributing, I’m taking responsibility for my life and my family.’

People have two options: to eat at the restaurant or to bring the meal back home.

We have managed to finance the project with the support of the neighbourhood, through donations and help from individuals or groups who organise fundraising events. There are also people who come to eat at the Restaurant who pay much more for their meal than it costs… In order to respect people’s dignity and to help them take responsibility, we try to provide training.

We have started various courses, in partnership with Caritas. We want everyone to gain new skills and to develop self-esteem. One other element is social cohesion.

We have done everything to ensure that people from all walks of life come as well, so that the Social Restaurant doesn’t become stigmatised as the place where poor people go.

We have already had elected representatives, university professors and people from all professional backgrounds. And this works well because regular customers are able to associate with people from a very different background and to eat amongst them.

P. Constantino, Portugal