John Hughes

John Hughes is a regular patron of The Broadway Cafe. Sometimes servers dip into the karma cup to pay for his coffee and pancakes.

The Broadway Cafe in Saskatoon is a 50's-style diner, famous for its comfort food and retro atmosphere.

In most ways it is a typical busy cafe. For three decades it has served hundreds of cups of coffee, breakfasts, lunches and dinners, every day.

About six months ago, the servers at the restaurant decided to start doing something different. They began pooling their tip money to buy food and drinks for their customers. They save the money inside what they call the "karma cup."

karma cup

The karma cup sits behind the till at the diner. (Madeline Kotzer/CBC News)

Stacy Beyer, who has been working as a waitress at the cafe off-and-on for nine years, brought the idea to Saskatoon after travelling in Australia.

"Everything that goes around comes around, so that is karma," Beyer explained. "It is just one cup full of money to give someone a good day."

John Hughes has been coming to The Broadway Cafe every day for 20 years and sometimes his morning coffee and pancakes are paid for with money from the karma cup.

"It gives a person a nice positive outlook on how their day goes. You know?" Hughes said. "Start the day like that, and it usually ends up nice too."

About 12 servers work at the diner and they all contribute to the cup. They figure they've picked up the bills for 75 to 100 people since it started.

Usually, the servers hold an impromptu meeting to decide which customer will be the recipient of a free meal or drink. There's only one criterion: the customer must look like he or she is having a bad day and needs a helping hand.

"If somebody comes in and they're having a bad day, you can generally tell, we have some chit chat, and you just know," Beyer said.

Many servers rely on tips to compose a large portion of their earnings but Tessa Priel said it wasn't a hard sell for her to get on board.

Priel, who has been serving at the restaurant for two years, explained that giving a few dollars every day out of her tips is well worth it for the difference it makes in people's daily lives.

"We had a lady in and she had a really bad morning, and she actually cried. She was crying already, but when we told her we would give her her meal [for free] with the karma cup, she was just really happy," Priel said.

The people who work at The Broadway Cafe said they hope the idea catches on in Saskatoon.