Zaatar W Zeit’s Act of Kindness

I was walking around Beirut the other day, in neighborhoods I hadn’t been to in a long time, only to find streets that have drastically changed. The most poignant moment of my walk was when I saw an old woman, sitting by the corner of the road crying. She had her mattress next to her. She had nowhere to go. The walk up to that woman was full of people like her. Things are getting tougher and there’s nothing to make them easier.

As a rule of thumb, it can be said that Lebanese restaurants are very disassociated with the general security of the country. As things get tougher, their prices get higher. I’ve rarely, if ever, heard of stories like the one below. But it is one of those rare instances that take you a few minutes to believe. 

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Of course, Zaatar w Zeit didn’t advertise this. It was simply an act of kindness on behalf of their branch in question. We all barraged Zaatar w Zeit for not serving alcohol at one of their branches this past year. It only felt fitting to highlight an act of kindness on their behalf towards those who are less fortunate in the midst of this non-festive holiday season.

Great job Zaatar w Zeit. Hopefully other restaurants follow suit in trying to make things easier for those who are overwhelmed by the harsh conditions of life in Lebanon.


Lebanese Restaurants: What Will Your Price Limit Be?

I decided to go out with a few friends tonight for dinner. Pretty mundane stuff, right? Well, with med schools and all such dinners have become quite rare so I tend to jump on them whenever I can.

We went to a place we were all familiar with: nothing too fancy, supposedly, and prices that were acceptable, supposedly.
We were given the menus. I looked at my go-to item and it seems since I visited that place last back in September, prices had taken a hike.

That same hike also happened last year across many of the country’s restaurants. And then the year before that. And the year before that. And we can go on for several years more but the sentence would become too wordy and tedious.

As we made our way back home, my friends and I wondered: when will Lebanese restaurants realize that it’s unacceptable to have these yearly price hikes that come in like clockwork when there are very few reasons (read none at all) to warrant them?

Lebanese restaurants don’t exist in vacuum. They exist in a country where salaries have not increased since last year and where the economic situation has become very tough for many people who used to frequent such places.

Have they seen their business take a dip over the past year? I doubt. And I doubt they’ll be affected this year as well. But we’re fast reaching the point where burger joints will stamp the word gourmet next to their names and cater only to select clientele because, you know, Lebanese love their exclusivity.

I’m not saying restaurants shouldn’t open a charity-esque business or not work for profit because that defeats the purpose of their existence.  I’m just saying there comes a time when the price of a French fries platter that doesn’t contain that much fries almost hitting $5 is way too much.

Excellent Lebanese Customer Service: Roadster Diner

The amount of professionalism at Roadster Diner keeps blowing me away. It could be because we’re not used to such levels of courtesy with customers in Lebanon.

During lent last year, the only and last time I decided to go all Bible belt-Christian and gave up 95% of types of food that man can eat, I ordered some form of a modified crab sandwich-turned vegan from Roadster. There was something wrong with the sauce. So I let them know via a DM on Twitter – I didn’t mind but I felt like they should know to prevent such a thing from occurring with other customers.

A day later, I was contacted by their HQ and discussed the matter for 40 minutes. Discussing sauce for slightly less than an hour can be refreshing.  They requested my address and sent me a package including a free dinner voucher.

Over the past few months, my visits to Rd less and less frequent. You can blame my diet for that, being way up North (they should consider opening something north of Jounieh, something I’ve said before) and medical school for that.

However, a few days ago I decided to indulge in a guilt-full burger as a way to celebrate a weight-related milestone I had crossed. First time in a long time I’m under 100kg!

I ended up finding the tiniest hair possible in my fries, something that is not unusual at restaurants. I am not the type to throw a fit when I see such a thing – there are much worse things that could take place with your food – but I always point it out. So I quietly called over a waiter and did so. He exchanged the fries and I figured that was it, as it should have been.

When we asked for the bill, I was surprised to find a lazy cake being placed on my table and the bill excluding my burger. I complained about this but they were adamant. And this happens every single time something like that happens.

This isn’t a rare occurrence that only happens with me. A friend of mine was having lunch once with a group of friends. He ordered some chicken tenders which came in late and were in less than optimal condition. He pointed it out. The entire table’s bill was on the house. The examples don’t stop there.

For many, such practices should come as second nature to businesses. But the fact of the matter is what Roadster and some very few select companies across the company do is not only rare, it’s borderline unique.

No, I’m not getting paid to write this. I am not a business guru or savant. My extent of business knowledge is the stock app on my iPhone. But as a customer, I believe that the practices of Roadster diner, as an example, make me feel like more than a number with some monetary input associated with it. If anything what Roadster and some other companies do is anything but what we’ve come to associate with typical Lebanese business behavior. And for that, they should be applauded.

Lebanese Cause Du Jour: Rotten Meat

It happens every now and then that a case of mass hysteria spreads around Lebanon following an event that makes headlines. It happened in January when the Achrafieh building collapsed. The cause du jour at the time was our infrastructure. Does anyone remember the Achrafieh building and its victims today? No. Is anyone still concerned with the upheaval of our rent law? No. Is anyone still worried about the state of their building in Beirut? No.

It’s not really a “Lebanese” thing as it is a human thing. We have a short attention span to events and get carried away with hype. That’s not necessarily a bad thing. But when it comes to the rotten food situation in Lebanon, I have to ask: why the melodrama?

We are all entitled to worry about our health. If we didn’t, who would? But when it comes to the food incident, we are not the first country where such a thing happened and we won’t be the last. Besides, this wasn’t the first time that rotten food was found in Lebanon and it won’t be the last. Or doesn’t anyone remember when your mother panicked for a day or two about the chicken nuggets she was buying following a Kalem El Nes episode which was repeated a while later for extra emphasis?

The melodrama cannot but be heightened by the way our media handles such incidences. To many people, it seemed that all restaurants were in on it – buying cheap rotten meat and putting it in their burgers. TV shows discussing the incidence not only showed one side of the story: the rotten side, but they completely disregarded the fact that most Lebanese restaurants have high standards when it comes to handling their meat. I am not a journalist but shouldn’t someone who has studied journalism expose both sides of a story and not seek out a story just because of the ratings entailed? It happened before with Tony Khalife and his Lel Nashr show. Simply put: you know you’re overreacting when you go to a place like Roadster’s and are worried about the meat they have.

To put things into perspective, our consumption of meat yearly is about 400,000 tons. The rotten meat confiscated by the authorities was 185 tons. That’s less than half a percent. Maybe the problem is more widespread than just those 185 tons. But it remains that most of the meat we eat is not rotten. Most of the restaurants we go to are not filthy.

Perhaps the more interesting question to ask in the case of this rotten meat debacle is how this meat got detoured from Israel to Lebanon and who’s truly responsible, instead of putting all the blame on restaurants whose only fault was not to open a butcher shop in their premises to procure their meat.