Sterling service, or a restaurant rip-off? That’s the question at the heart of a debate now raging online, after reports surfaced on social media that a group of eight Chinese tourists were given a 16,500-shekel ($4,380) bill for dinner at the Abu Ghosh restaurant, in the village of the same name outside Jerusalem.
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The now infamous tab included a charge of 5,900 shekels for alcohol, 1,300 shekels for dessert and 4,000 shekels for use of a private room. Adding insult to injury, it also allegedly included a 1,500-shekel service charge, even though the bill says “service not included.”
A picture of the tab for the five-figure meal served in July began circulating online this week, with the encouragement of the Israel Incoming Tour Operators Association, accompanied by griping about Israeli restaurants and service providers taking advantage of naive tourists.
“These visitors said they won’t be returning or recommending that their friends come to Israel. Suckers are a very precarious base to build a business plan on. That’s how our actions are destroying the potential of the Chinese market in Israel,” IITOA Chairman Yossi Fattal wrote in an online post.
Chinese tourism is still only a drop in the ocean for the Israeli industry, but the numbers are growing fast. In July, for instance, 61,500 Americans visited Israel and 31,500 people came from France, compared with just 7,000 Chinese, according to the Central Bureau of Statistics. But that was up from just 3,400 a year ago, at a time when overall tourism arrivals to Israel are in decline.
Meanwhile, Israeli tourism officials are trying to make them more welcome, as China’s middle class grows and more Chinese are taking overseas vacations.
In July, the Tourism Ministry offered an online course for travel professionals to better understand Chinese culture and traditions. Among other things, it noted, “The Chinese believe in good manners, modesty, respect and avoiding embarrassment. They like arranging banquets.”
And that’s exactly what Jawdat Ibrahim, one of Abu Ghosh’s owners, argued in an online response to the social media fallout. He claimed that his restaurant, whose Mediterranean menu features hummus, was defamed by the tourism operators’ association
“The last few hours have taught me something about life. They taught me how easy it is to discredit someone; how easy it is to arrive at erroneous conclusions from fragments of information; and how our country is filled with good people that research, examine and stay skeptical about others and are ready to defend the good name of my restaurant,” Ibrahim wrote on Facebook.
According to Ibrahim, the eight Chinese diners ordered a gourmet meal that lasted eight hours, including special desserts, alcoholics drinks that were ordered especially for the group, and that the restaurant was closed to the public in order to host them.
Addressing Fattal, he wrote: “You’re not interested that our costs were 14,000 shekels. You don’t care that the actual bill was 15,000 and that they insisted in paying a 10% tip. At Abu Ghosh, we know how to host — whether it is a 59-shekel business meal or a special-ordered gourmet meal.”
Fattal remains convinced it was a rip-off. He contended that further checks with the Chinese diners and their guide revealed that no special orders for drinks were made, the meal lasted four hours and the restaurant wasn’t closed to the public.