Scratch Food & Beverage launching pay-what-you-can menu in 2020 | Food | Pittsburgh | Pittsburgh City Paper

Scratch Food & Beverage launching pay-what-you-can menu in 2020

click to enlarge Scratch Food & Beverage launching pay-what-you-can menu in 2020
Photo: Scratch F&B

In 2020, Scratch Food & Beverage will be one of the first area restaurants to launch a pay-what-you-can dinner menu. 

The Troy Hill restaurant’s pick-your-own-price meal will go hand-in-hand with its recently launched Q-Time program, an affordable, family-style dinner designed to take the stress of money and preparation off the table. 

“The ideas came in tandem,” says Scratch owner Don Mahaney. “We have a lot of people who come through the space and comment about how comfortable they feel and how at home they feel.” Q-Time and pay-what-you-want dinners are ways Mahaney is taking this feeling of “home” to the next level.

The Q-Time menu is available to a party of four to six every night of the week, by reservation only. For $130, the party is treated to a meal reminiscent of Mahaney and Scratch chef Chris O'Brien's own family meals: soup, followed by meatloaf and side dishes — potatoes, gravy, Brussels sprouts, roasted carrots, greens, and pickled vegetables — and for dessert, a whole apple pie.

Both Q-Time and the new meal stem from the restaurant’s mission statement, “to be a space where friendly paths intersect, so that our neighbors can come to see the whole world as home for a time.” Mahaney believes that one of the best places to create this sense of belonging is at the dinner table.

Up until the launch of Q-Time, Mahaney and O’Brien met Scratch’s mission through menu design, offering a bill fit for any eater, with or without dietary restrictions. Scratch, as Mahaney points out, caters to “vegan, gluten-free, and those who want deep-fried meat on a stick with aioli.” It was important to the duo that diners didn’t have to make a choice where to eat based on a diet, or contort their meal to match an allergy. 

Their next obstacle to tackle was sticker price.

“We see a great diversity in the people who come through the doors in many different ways,” says Mahaney. “But income levels are always, frankly, going to be an issue.”

Mahaney has been following the evolution of pay-what-you-can restaurants as they’ve grown in popularity — the first is said to date back to the 1980s — while working out what the restaurant could handle financially. Hosting a pay-what-you-can menu every day is economically impossible, but once a week, on a Sunday night, Mahaney can pull it off.

Mahaney is expecting to launch the meals at the beginning of 2020 in order to assure that every kink is smoothed out. 

“I want to make sure that when we do this, we’re able to do and do it well, [and] we don’t have to stutter start or do it in any kind of half-assed way,” says Mahaney. “I think that would be a betrayal of what we’re trying to accomplish.”