Diners Asked to Eat Off Plastic Plates as Gesture to Striking Refugees

Some restaurant owners are doing it in solidarity with the protesters, while others say they have no choice.

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Diners sitting down at a table at one the Beta Caffé branches in Tel Aviv are being greeted by their waitresses with an unusual announcement: “Because we identify with the protesting foreign workers, we’re serving meals on disposable dishes.”

Customers who protest have the option of getting their orders served on regular dishes with steel cutlery. But Ayelet Latovich, the chain’s head chef and the one who conceived the gesture, says almost everyone has opted for disposables.

“We declared at the start that we are only doing this for three days – and not because it’s any easier for us,” she says. “Disposables are bad for the environment. They cost a lot of money and we’re still paying our dishwasher. But we decided to do it anyhow to tell the refugees that we’re with them in their struggle.”

Besides asking them to use plastic plates and forks, diners get a flyer explaining how Beta Caffe stands on the issue. “It shouldn’t be the case that our customers feel like it’s business as usual,” she said.

Beta Caffe is not alone. Nanuchka, a Tel Aviv restaurant owned by Nana Shreir, is giving its customers the same option. “We don’t do it all the time but we decided to serve meals on disposable dishes,” she said.

“This started from a situation of real distress, to show everyone the situation the refugees are in, to show people who don’t know what is happening. They have to know,” Shreir explained.

Another Tel Aviv restaurant, Orna & Ella is still using its usual dishes and cutlery, but according to the manager, Guy Lichtenstein, if his refugee kitchen staff don’t return to work by the end of the week, he will be forced to use plastic, too.

“On Friday and Saturday the amount of work is much bigger than in the middle of the week. We won’t be able to manage with the kitchen staff we have now,” he said. “I don’t if we’ll lower prices as a result.”

Lichtenstein said turnover has fallen about 10% because he has been forced to open the restaurant later and close it earlier due to the strikes.

“I don’t know if we can lower prices. I hope that people who come to eat with us will be able to understand that we can’t meet our usual standards with things as they are right now,” he said.

Another Tel Aviv restaurant owner, who asked not to be identified, said he was opposed in principle to the idea of asking his diners to eat off plastic.

“The whole business of disposable dishes is embarrassing,” he said. “If someone is serving food on a plastic throw-away plate, he should charge half for the meal.”

He said a restaurant is in the business of hosting. “Whatever is happening to the refugees, however bad, it doesn’t need to enter the restaurant,” he said. “Restaurants are supposed to provide a happy and pleasant experience.”

But the anonymous restaurant owner admitted he was suffering, too. “During the week, I’ve had to go into the kitchen and wash dishes,” he said. “But I succeeded in getting a few discharged soldiers to work for us for the next few days.”

Striking asylum-seekers in Tel Aviv's Levinsky Park, January 9, 2014.Credit: Moti Milrod

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