One Louisiana restaurant has unveiled a controversial pricing structure meant to offer “more than lunch” by shedding light on racial income disparity.
According to the Independent, New Orleans-based chef Tunde Wey has been offering meals at his restaurant, SAARTJ, with two-tiered suggested prices based on his customers’ race.
In an interview with Civil Eats, the Nigerian chef explained his decision to implement the system for a pop-up restaurant that ended its limited run earlier this month.
“I start by asking them what they think the racial wealth gap is,” he said, adding that he then explained his position before asking white customers if they would be willing to pay $30 for a meal that costs minority patrons less than half as much.
In addition to paying the lower $12 price for their lunch, black customers were also given an opportunity to take home the extra $18 paid by a previous white customer, though more than three out of four declined the handout.
As he explained in the interview and in an Instagram post announcing the unique endeavor, the conversation about wealth inequality takes about 15 minutes. He said the extra time with customers has provided an opportunity for locals to learn about the impact of race on wealth both in New Orleans and across the U.S.
“Most of the time we tend to identify the problem, assign an antagonist and address the problem,” Wey said.
The racial makeup of his clientele during the restaurant’s short period of operation was almost evenly split between blacks and whites, he said, with nearly 8 in 10 white customers opting to pay the elevated price.
Wey acknowledged that he believes social pressure was responsible for many of those decisions.
“Refusing to pay more comes off as antisocial and people don’t want to be judged for that,” he said.
The fact that white customers were being asked by a black chef to pay more, he explained, was likely an added factor.
“People look on the other side of the till and see me standing there and they’re thinking that I’m judging them,” he said.
Those who paid the lower amount for the meal, Wey said, provided “a list of caveats why they couldn’t.”
He has also announced plans for a two-hour public meeting later this week to discuss his social experiment.
The activist chef went on to criticize the questions he received from some guests who asked where the additional money for the $30 meals would go, which he said missed the point of his experiment.
“The act of finding a solution shouldn’t be charity-based or altruistic,” Wey said.
Describing wealth accumulation as a representation of social power, he shared his belief regarding the real benefit of redistributing that capital.
“The ownership of wealth has been contingent on taking from someone else, and that money doesn’t distill virtue on you,” he said. “You cannot transfer money without transferring the agency that comes with it.”
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