Going out for dinner is great. It brings you together with family friends, it gives you a chance to try new foods, and everyone has to eat, right?
But increasing numbers of restaurants are taking the dining out experience to a whole new level — by using it as a way to also give a helping hand to their communities.
Take Action: The Food That Made Me
To celebrate World Food Day, here are eight British restaurants which are using food to drive social change in their local areas.
1. Refettorio Felix
The idea for Refettorio Felix was conceived by Food for Soul, a non-profit organisation that fights against food waste and founded by renowned Italian chef Massimo Bottura.
The restaurant, launched in June, is housed in the St. Cuthbert’s Centre in west London which, for the last 20 years, has been a drop-in centre for marginalised people.
Now it’s a place where surplus ingredients, which would otherwise be wasted, are transformed into delicious, multi-course meals for vulnerable members of the community.
“The gesture of sitting down to a meal and breaking bread together is the first step toward rebuilding dignity and creating community,” said chef Massimo Bottura, who has also launched Refettorio restaurants in Milan and Rio de Janeiro.
Although the dining service isn’t open to the public, those interested in Refettorio Felix can volunteer or attend their visiting times to learn more about the project.
2. The Clink
The Clink is a quality restaurant with a difference. It’s entirely staffed by prisoners, offering an innovative approach to rehabilitation to train former offenders and get them back into the community.
So far, more than 800 prisoners have graduated from The Clink’s four training restaurants and, with the opening of another restaurant at HMP Styal in Cheshire, the organisation is now able to train up to 160 prisoners a day.
Each prisoner works and trains for 40 hours a week, so by the time they graduate, they have all the skills needed to get back on their feet.
The restaurants are housed in four prisons around the UK: HMP High Down, in Sutton; HMP Brixton, in London; HMP Styal, in Cheshire, and HMP Cardiff, in Wales.
3. Cafe in the Park
Cafe in the Park, in Rickmansworth, in Hertfordshire, is all about community and sustainability.
Since the cafe opened in a hut in 2005, before moving to its current home four years later, every decision made by its owner Carly Trisk-Grove has been driven by the greater good.
The food is all sustainably sourced and environmentally friendly, and Trisk-Grove also helps look after the animals by “making sure they have dignity in their life,” according to the Independent.
But the greater good doesn’t stop with the food. The cafe also offers volunteers with learning difficulties the chance to gain skills and work experience within the catering industry.
“It’s just looking at anything you need to do and thinking about the way you can do it by having the most positive impact… from the way you treat your staff to the paint you buy,” said Trisk-Grove. “It’s considering the world around you in every decision you make.”
4. Social Bite
Scotland’s Social Bite sandwich shop is also on a mission to help the vulnerable people in Britain to help themselves — by feeding and employing homeless people from the local area.
It shot to fame in November 2015, when George Clooney picked up an avocado and pesto wrap from the Rose Street branch in Edinburgh.
But it has come on leaps and bounds since then. There are now five Social Bite shops: two each in Edinburgh and Glasgow, and one in Aberdeen. There are also plans to open a branch in Dundee.
As well as offering jobs to people who are homeless or formerly homeless, 100% of Social Bite’s profits go to charity.
It also offers a “pay it forward” scheme, so customers can buy a coffee or sandwich from the menu, and someone who’s homeless can claim the already-paid-for item later on.
This restaurant and tearoom boasts an entirely vegetarian menu, but it still entices a steady stream of meat-eating customers through its doors.
True, the UK has a growing number of veggie and vegan places to eat, but Gillam’s was one of the first — having launched 10 years ago and it’s still going strong.
Dave Gillam, the owner of the Cumbrian restaurant, is vegan and he believes in the importance of reducing how much meat we eat.
But rather than trying to put meat-eaters off their steaks, he’s trying to lure people into vegetarianism by showing them the power of the vegetable.
“I don’t believe the way to reduce meat consumption is to harass people,” said Gillam. “When you harass people with nasty leaflets it doesn’t quite work and sometimes is counterproductive.”
6. Yeo Valley Canteen
This is another restaurant founded on an ethos of sustainability and green-living.
All the food served up by Yeo Valley Canteen is bought seasonally, locally, and organically, and they only use meat reared and slaughtered on site.
But the restaurant, which started out life as the Yeo Valley staff canteen, also go one step further.
They are almost entirely self-sufficient in energy. They grow Miscanthus, which is similar to bamboo, on the farm, and use that to produce the fuel that heats their boilers.
They also have almost an acre of solar panels spread out on the roof of the dairy shed. And, vitally, none of the waste they produce goes to landfill.
7. Waterhouse Restaurant
Launched by the charity Shoreditch Trust in 2008, the Waterhouse Restaurant serves up breakfasts, lunches, and dinners.
But as well as placing an emphasis on seasonal, sustainable ingredients, the Waterhouse also offers a leg up to young people in the local area.
It is home to the Shoreditch Trust’s Blue Marble Training Programme, designed to support and train vulnerable young adults to help them stand on their own two feet.
The project particularly focuses on young people who are transitioning from care or custody; who are struggling with drug use, crime, violence, FGM, or teenage pregnancy; who are lacking skills or knowledge, and struggling to access them; or who are living in poverty.
And as well as teaching them practical skills, the Waterhouse has seen the young people who have passed through its doors gaining in confidence, and leading more fulfilling lives in their communities.
8. Feng Sushi
Sure, this London sushi restaurant sources all its fish carefully to make sure it’s sustainable.
All of Feng Sushi’s fish has had the thumbs up from the Marine Stewardship Council, and they serve as much British fish as possible. What’s more, they won’t serve any varieties of fish when stocks are low so they don’t drain resources.
But there’s so much more to it than that.
The chain’s chopsticks are all sustainable. They recycle leftover oil to be used as biodiesel. They use almost entirely biodegradable packaging.
And they work with farmers in the UK to help them grow produce that is normally only found in Asia, like edamame beans, so that they can reduce the environmental impact of transporting their ingredients.