Restaurant Price Revolution in Lebanon

I have a theory about hyper-inflated prices at restaurants in Lebanon. Why are they at least twice as expensive as they should be? Why is it that Lebanese who travel to Europe or the United States come back raving about how cheap and affordable restaurants abroad are compared to their Lebanese counterparts?

Case in point: Stockholm is the latest food addition to Gemmayze. A self-declared Swedish restaurant, Stockholm features a “Bakad Potatis,” which it describes as “a delicious baked potato stuffed with a delightful special sauce packed with shrimps, ham, chicken curry, or tuna.” How much do you suppose one of these glorified potatoes would set you back? $5? $10 if the restaurant’s particularly fancy? Sorry, guess again.



A glorified jacket potato

$20 whopping smackeroos. Yes, you read correctly. $20 for a potato and your choice of a soft drink. A potato. A spud. A root. Produced in overabundance locally. The base food of the poor in 18th century Ireland. I can’t stomach $20 as being reasonable for a measly potato.

Here’s another illustration: Calvados resto-pub in Broumanna is offering its patrons 4 drinks, 2 shots, and an appetizer for $53. Let’s do a quick price check: 6 alcoholic drinks, 2 of which are just a few milliliters in volume, and a dish of unrecognizable fritters. Do those justify a $53 price tag? Not in my book.


So what’s going on here? Well, let’s rewind to 2010, when group-buying sites like GoNabit, Makhsoom, and goSawa took Lebanon by storm. These knock-offs of the big boys—Groupon and LivingSocial—offered internet-savvy folks discounts on featured services, including dining out. Customers would pay 50% of the advertised face value of the voucher, say $5 for $10 worth of grub, and simply present their voucher at the restaurant upon ordering. I always theorized nasty restaurant managers gave voucher-carrying customers half the normal portion size of the dish, so as not to forego any revenue. But what has happened in fact has transformed much of the restaurant business in Lebanon, especially those restaurants who have at some point in time advertised with a group-buying site.


That $20 spud dish? Well, it’s only $10 on arreb3altayyeb.com, the newest entrant onto the deal-doling scene. $10, I can grasp. And how about the half-dozen drinks and appetizer? They’re all yours for $25 on goSawa.


There’s a new craze to hit town, and it’s called Beirut Circle. A “VIP pass” of sorts, membership in this privilege club entitles the cardholder to substantial discounts at a wide variety of venues, including restaurants. For example, you can enjoy two main courses for the price of one at the French bistro Paname if you wield your card. Admission into Beirut Circle comes at the price of around $100 a year.


I’ve noticed that many restaurants advertised on Beirut Circle have adapted the prices of their menu to absorb potentially foregone revenue. Take, for example, Sushiwa, a trendy sushi restaurant off of Sassine Square. With the Beirut Circle card, you can get 2 for 1 sushi combo platters. The Sushiwa Special features 21 pieces, among which are sashimi, sushi, and ura maki. This platter used to be priced at 38,000LL. Restaurant management must have considered it a loss to offer two of these combos for a mere 38,000LL, so they adjusted prices accordingly. Today the Sushi Special indeed commands a 54,000LL price tag. The 50% jump in price coincided with Sushiwa’s admittance to Beirut Circle, and likely not by mere chance.


So what’s the take-home lesson? Either invest in the Beirut Circle card so that you’re not falling victim to over-exaggerated restaurant prices. Or avoid frequenting those venues that are advertised with Beirut Circle, goSawa, Makhsoom, or any other deal site. Stick to the old names in the food industry that don’t need to rely on marketing ploys to reel in customers. Their prices tend to be close to if not at market. And finally, keep it modest: nothing wrong with a wholesome manouche at your friendly neighborhood bakery from time to time. It’s healthy, local, and there’s little chance you’ll be ripped off!


Comments

  1. Reminds me of another marketing plot I witnessed where a shirt I had seen for 50 l.l. for example was now "50%" off; as the original price was now marked up to 100 l.l. fooling us into to believing we got a discount.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Very good point there, a salad and a soft drink at a diner can easily cost you 20$ these days!

    ReplyDelete
  3. A wonderful post–lovely food made all the more delectable via your unique wordsmithing!

    ReplyDelete

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