It’s a familiar feeling. You feel full, a little drowsy. The meal you have just finished was surprising and delicious in equal measure. You don’t consider yourself too much the foodie or the wine snob but recognise that both, in this case, were excellent. The evening is in its adolescence so, after glancing at the time, you motion for the bill. In our little container, the bill comes folded into a kind short fat cigar, paperclipped to two cards - one business, one charity.
At this point, this story diverges into three possibilities. First, you look over the bill quickly but with a certain fastidiousness, and satisfied by the price of the meal and the discretionary service charge, you pay the bill and trot off into the night. The second iteration finds you in a hustling mood - did we really have that many drinks, is the service charge really worth that much? And so, you barter over the contents of this cheque until either you or the restaurant is convinced by the reasoning of the other.
The final possibility is specific to Smoke and Salt and raises the issue of how modern restaurants engage in social causes. In our container, printed on each bill there is, added beneath the food and drink, a little charge of twenty pence listed as Bounce Back. Those who scrutinise the bill and ask what this pertains are informed about our partnership with the Bounce Back charity.
Founded back in 2010 as a painting and decorating company, Bounce Back transitioned into a charity and social enterprise. Its central objective is working with prisoners in Brixton prison and, in offering them training and qualification opportunities, aims to rehabilitate prisoners back into society. Bounce Back, and other social enterprises, exist, in part, as a reaction to the consequences of the last eight years of austerity. Savage cuts to the public sector has significantly impacted the prison system - already in dire need of systemic reform and not garnering the media spotlight of health or education services. Enterprises like Bounce Back act as best they can as palliatives to such consequences. For instance, where the national average for reoffending stands at around 60%, those who go through Bounce Back schemes reoffend at a rate of 12%.
Aside from the social morality argument there is simple financial logic to Bounce Back’s altruism. It costs £1,125 for Bounce Back to train an inmate, whilst the cost of one person in prison for a year stands at £37,240. A look through Bounce Back’s annual reports will list a variety of statistics that evidence the value of their work. Perhaps more significant is the unquantifiable nature of helping someone in prison get ready to leave and continue to help them, materially and otherwise, once they’re out. And this is all from a container, just next to ours. Bounce Back’s operation is relatively small but it stands in partnership with other London based charities as well as businesses who offer traineeships to prisoners.
Smoke and Salt’s role in all this is largely incidental. This is Aaron and Remi’s first restaurant and the container in Pop Brixton offered the best opportunity to launch their venture. Part of the premise of Pop Brixton, found in the mission statement of its parent organisation, Make Shift, is a commitment to community investment, to make the businesses in the space give back to the local area. Though it is a different debate as to whether Pop Brixton is actually integrated into the social fabric of Brixton, from Smoke and Salt’s perspective our partnership with Bounce Back, as per the business/charity partnership scheme of Make Shift, offers interesting insights into how restaurants can reflect and engage in wider societal concerns.
Restaurants are so often bubbled away from the rest of the world; they are luxuries for consumption and waste. Yet nowadays those aspects are being challenged more and more frequently. Zero-waste restaurants are seen at the cutting edge of the industry, meat-eating has seen massive reductions (our menu is half vegetarian for instance), and on a national scale we are trying to minimise the use of plastics. All of these are symptoms of a changing culinary landscape, one which situates restaurants as needing to be more socially conscious. But why stop at ecological issues?
Our partnership with Bounce Back suggests that there are a range of ways in which a restaurant can give back and not be merely a space for consumption. It was Pop Brixton that provided the initial impetus for the partnership but it stands to reason that it can be done straightforwardly from one’s own independent means. Given the experience of working with a social enterprise in the local area, it follows that Smoke and Salt, wherever it ends up, will continue to work with charities, learning from them and providing them a platform to promote their work among customers coming through the door. And all it would take, as a start, is for you to remember - always read the bill.