Lebanese Restaurant Wars: Scam or Not?
Let’s play a little game, shall we? I’m about to recount a scenario, and I want you to tell me whether it falls under decent or indecent business conduct.
On Saturday, we wandered in to a well-known resto-café on the ever-popular Cresus Street (what I prefer to call Arguileh Avenue) in Antelias. With still an hour to go before the highly anticipated Brazil-Chile match at 7pm and few other guests besides us, we were invited to sit either inside or outside. We chose inside, as the weather was stifling hot. Almost as soon as we pulled out our chairs, a 1.5-L bottle of water landed on the table and was swiftly opened before we could process whether or not we wanted it. Fine. Water is good. Always room for water, we mumbled. How nice of the waiter to have our health at heart.
A “special” menu soon made its way into our hands and featured everything BUT typical munching matter suitable for sports viewing. No nachos, no quesadillas, no shrimp rolls, no fries—no appetizers, come to think of it. Instead, you could have your fill of pizza, pasta, sandwiches, steaks, or other full-size mains. This reduced menu, we were told, facilitated the work on the chefs during peak viewing times—in other words, all the nosh was prepared hours in advance and was simply reheated upon ordering.
The waiter said he’d see if an exception could be made and went to fetch us some nachos. Shouldn’t be too difficult, right? Open a bag of tortilla chips, dump a handful onto a plate, grate some cheese on top, microwave, and serve. Easy. A soda to go with it would be grand, we replied.
Naturally, the soda arrived first accompanied by a plastic cup filled with tap-water ice. At 6,000LL a pop, this was some pretty precious diet Coke, and we’d been expecting a gold-plated goblet for its cradle. Alas, the kitchen was under duress and couldn’t be bothered to wash glassware.
No less than a half hour later, the plate of nachos appeared in all its plasticized glory. You could barely pull apart the faux cheese-smothered tortilla tapestry dotted with stray jalapeno rings; it had hardened into a wax mold. With it came a small ramequin of rancid sour cream, which we immediately pushed to the side, and a tiny vial of avocado mash with parsley. (Parsley?! Come on, folks—guacamole is garnished with fresh coriander! And for God’s sake, learn the meaning of generosity if “successful restaurateur” is anywhere in your mission statement).
We tried to look past the nachos, a dish you’d genuinely have to go out of your way to screw up, and focus on the match. That’s why we were here, after all. Close to the end of the second half, we requested the tab. The waiter brought it and stood intently behind us as we studied it, perhaps foreseeing a startled reaction. “45,000LL,” it read, and a quick gloss over the bill items (“Shrimps,” “7UP,” “World Cup special”) convinced us it wasn’t ours. We handed it back to the waiter, conveniently perched over us, and insisted there’d been a mistake.
“No,” he bellowed, “this is yours.” He rationalized that the nachos were not on the featured menu, so they took the liberty to ring up the shrimp platter as an equivalent. What of the “World Cup special,” we inquired? He grinned heinously. There was a 10,000LL-cover charge per person to view the match.
We stared at him in utter bafflement and told him to hail the manager. Several minutes later, a man dressed in Argentina paraphernalia approached our table and asked us what the matter was. We pointed to the bill, decrying the cover charge, especially as it was posted nowhere nor even mentioned by the waiter when we'd walked in. He retorted that the restaurant was providing extraordinary amenities during the World Cup—huge projector screens, a fireworks show at every goal, and even dancers trotting around in Brazilian garb during halftime. Did we possibly think all those gems were free? Mind you, we’d been sitting inside, where said fireworks and exotic dancers were not on display.
What about the shrimps, we asked? Repeating the waiter’s explanation almost verbatim, he added that the shrimp were tiny anyway, as if to equate shrimp with nachos. Because we all know that seafood is equivalent to corn chips, right? Surely they could fetch 16,000LL at this ritzy eatery (not!).
With disgust, we stuffed a 50,000LL bill into the tab. No change was ever returned. How could we have expected differently? This joint was anything but an authority in etiquette. And we’d been gypped.