A cafe that lets customers name their own price for purchases is expanding after proving honesty actually does pay.
Dock Cafe, a faith based community coffee shop in Belfast’s Titanic Quarter, does not rely on cash tills, and instead asks patrons to put whatever they feel is appropriate into their donations box upon leaving.
Originally opened on a pop-up temporary basis, the premises has now been trading for 15 months and has proved so successful that it has added an extension.
Church of Ireland minister Reverend Chris Bennett, who helps run the cross-denominational cafe along with counterparts from other faiths in Northern Ireland, described it as a “community living room”.
“Overseas visitors who may not know what a cup of coffee costs over here, we might give them a suggested price, but 99 times out of 100 we just leave it to people’s discretion whatever they think is a fair price,” he explained.
“At the end of the day we always have a few fivers and tenners in the box and we don’t really have anything in the coffee bar that would cost that, so some people are clearly paying above the odds.
“Some people pay below the odds too, but the great thing is we never know who pays extra or less.
“I think there’s a real dignity in that.”
If you genuinely can’t pay for a coffee then you are not made to feel bad while if you are really generous and give more, then it is quite humbling to just put something in the box rather than splashing the cash around.
Rev Chris Bennett
Tourists are not the cafe’s only source of income, as the shop also attracts many local people, with business men and women sharing space with students from the nearby Belfast Metropolitan college campus.
Staffed by volunteers, the charity cafe is also boosted by the fact it doesn’t have to pay rent.
Building owners Titanic Quarter have offered the commercial unit free of charge until such time as a new tenant emerges.
David Gavaghan, Titanic Quarter’s CEO, said: “With around 15,000 people living, working and studying in Titanic Quarter, there is a real sense of community developing in the area.
“The Dock cafe is much more than a cafe – it’s a community hub where people meet their neighbours and friends to relax and enjoy themselves,” he added.
Titanic Quarter is a new way of urban living and the Dock’s ‘honesty cafe’ approach is a great example of how Belfast can lead the way in making new ideas work.
David Gavaghan, Titanic Quarter CEO
“There’s a huge amount of work which goes into running the Dock and the volunteers who make it happen deserve much credit for successfully completing their first full year.”
It was never set up to make money – but Rev Bennett believes the fact it is covering its costs, and more, is remarkable.
“This was always meant to be a temporary pop up thing,” he added.
“But now the Titanic Quarter have let us extend a little further.
“Lunch time it is packed out, so we will be able to squeeze a few more in now.”
In the future, Rev Bennett and his fellow volunteers are hoping to relocate the cafe to a boat in the nearby docks.
“Right from the very start the plan was to buy a boat, so we are still keeping an eye out for one,” he said.
“At the moment we call the cafe ‘the boat that doesn’t float’.”