It’s a normal morning at a busy north-east London cafe.
Cutlery clinks as people eat and chatter with those on neighbouring tables and children shout greetings as friends from school come through the door.
But Eggs & Bread in Walthamstow is not your usual brunch spot.
Customers can sit down, enjoy a hearty breakfast and walk out – without paying.
The project is one of dozens of non-for-profit “pay-what-you-like” cafes popping up across the UK.
Customers are asked to donate as much as they like – or are able – when they visit.
And if they can’t pay? No problem.
Outside Eggs & Bread a sign boasts it offers the shortest menu on the street – just boiled eggs, toast and porridge, with tea, coffee and orange juice to drink.
Those that can afford to are asked pop their money in the discreet “contributions” box mounted on the wall, so no-one ever really knows how much others have paid – or not paid.
The cafe went viral on Twitter last week when one man revealed he paid £20 for breakfast there, but staff say it is not about the money.
“If you are a City broker or simply broke everyone’s welcome,” said owner Guy Wilson.
“Whether you’re catching up with friends, or just want somewhere comfy to grab a bite, we’re here, and at no charge.”
Guy, who works in insurance, has decided not to run Eggs & Bread as a charity, but as a not-for-profit business.
The cafe, he insists, is an “equaliser” allowing people from all walks of life to sit down and talk to one another over a good breakfast by “taking money out of the situation”.
Regular Sheilla Addy-Tely, an author, pops in two or three times a week with her son Ethan, six, before school.
“Sometimes we come because it’s the easy breakfast option, sometimes finances are a bit stretched and when we can we make it up,” she says.
“I enjoy it so much and we’ve both made friends.”
“Are we going to pay today mummy? I think we should,” Ethan cheekily interjects.
Sheilla laughs and confirms they will indeed be paying.
The cafe is also unusual in that customers serve themselves – they grab an egg (or two) from a basket, along with an egg timer, and place them in a specially built rack.
They toast their own bread and make themselves drinks – a process particularly appealing to the many children who visit.
Illustrator Louise Pemberton visits the cafe regularly with her husband, Simon, also an illustrator, and their two children.
“We’ve been coming here for the last four months or so, about three times a week,” she says.
“It’s almost like being on holiday, there’s such a nice vibe and everyone is so friendly,” Simon added.
The clientele is an unusual mix of parents popping in with their children before school, elderly people, professionals, adults with special needs and those who just fancy a chat.
Communal tables ensure people sit side by side with strangers and more often than not, conversations ensue.
Juma Dimmock brought her husband, Warren, and children Rayyaa and Khalid along for the first time after she attended a coffee morning at the venue.
“It’s the first time we’ve all come here but we thought we would try it out,” she says. “It’s really nice and so handy as their school is really close by.
“Normally Khalid won’t eat eggs at home but he has today – we will definitely be coming back.”
Others visit the cafe as a chance to catch up and have a chat, like regulars Julie and Kate.
“We really like it here,” says Julie. “The people who work here are lovely and it’s always so clean.”
Elsewhere, projects have been set up to help people struggling to put a meal on the table or for environmental reasons.
Many use donated foods from supermarkets, restaurants and suppliers that would otherwise have gone to waste.
The Real Junk Food Project, based in Wakefield, offers “pay-what-you-like” cafes selling food that would have been thrown out.
It wants to end food waste, with owner Adam Smith stressing its mission is “environmental rather than social”.
Set up in 2013 as a single cafe, it now has sites across the country, including Glasgow and Manchester.
It also runs the Kindness Sharehouse in Wakefield, the world’s first “food intercepting” social supermarket.
It has “intercepted” 5,000 tonnes of food that would have been waste, the equivalent of 11.9m meals, and inspired more than 120 other concepts around the world.
The organisation works with 92 stores to make tonnes of food available on a pay-what-you-can basis.
Mr Smith decided to act after witnessing the amount of food waste generated by both farms and restaurant kitchens.
“But the Real Junk Food Project will only be a success when we are no longer needed,” he says.
At ToastLoveCoffee in Leeds all ingredients are donated from local shops and supermarkets and would have been otherwise wasted.
There are no prices on the menu – and skills and time are accepted as currency instead of cash.
And in south London, Brixton Pound Cafe uses surplus food to create vegetarian and vegan meals for “everyone, regardless of situation”.
The cafe was opened in July 2016 as a direct response to “the rampant regeneration of the area”.
In 2018 the cafe saved 3.2 tonnes of food from landfill, by serving 11,000 meals to 18,500 customers, and collaborated with 35 local organisations to increase access to affordable healthy food for residents.
“We aim to provide a relaxed and inclusive environment for locals looking for an alternative to expensive, exclusive establishments in Brixton,” says manager Sean Roy Parker.
Back at Eggs & Bread, owner Guy Wilson says: “What we are basically doing is providing the community with facilities to provide for itself.”
At the moment he funds the project and pays staff wages but hopes that within a year it will be self-sustaining.
As part of that the cafe now runs a weekly chilli night where proceeds go towards the breakfast scheme.
“Of course, if the community doesn’t want to look after itself, this will fail – but I don’t believe it will,” he adds.