Conversations in Management: Jawdat Ibrahim

Maybe in some small way I’ll be changing the culture of eating.

Jawdat Ibrahim

IbrahimJawdat Ibrahim won the lottery. No, really, he won $23 million in the Illinois State Lottery. He used the cash to open Abu Ghosh a popular restaurant in a village of the same name located about six miles outside of Jerusalem. In addition to providing highly acclaimed fare, Ibrahim has used the restaurant to promote peaceful coexistence between Arabs and Jews. On a more mundane level, he used his promotional flair to capture the Guinness World Record for the largest plate of hummus. The gargantuan offering weighed four tons and was served on a satellite dish! More recently, he’s achieved notoriety by offering a 50% discount to diners willing to turn off their smartphones while at the restaurant. After watching people become increasingly more distracted by their smartphones—sometimes to the point of forgetting to eat—he wanted to do something that would help people, “enjoy the food and enjoy the company.” He’s not the only restaurateur trying to preserve the ambiance of their establishment. Visit the Bedivere Eatery and Tavern in Beirut and you’ll find owner Samer Korban doing the same thing, albeit with a 10% discount. Lest you think this is a uniquely Mid-Eastern effort to create tiny oases of harmony, American restaurants are following suit. More directive than most—and sans discount—is the LA eatery, Bucato. Their website Policies page advises, “It is our intention that you enjoy your time with us, savoring both your meal and your company. We kindly ask that you refrain from using your mobile device within the dining area. All photography within Bucato is politely discouraged. Thank you.” They ask kindly while strictly enforcing the mandate. A French café is taking a different approach. The Petite Syrah café on the Riviera has a chalkboard explaining how to order. Order “a coffee” and it will set you back €7. Order “a coffee, please” and you’ll pay only €4.25. On a budget? Try this, “Hello, a coffee please,” and your wallet will only be €1.40 lighter. Café manager Fabrice Pepino says it started as a joke. Stressed out patrons were often rude; this was a lighthearted way to say, “Keep calm and carry on.” Customers saw the humor and joined in the fun. Pepino is now greeted by regulars as, “your greatness.”  He reports, “People are more relaxed now, and they’re smiling more—that’s the most important thing.”

These efforts to change the culture of eating seem like good ideas. It’s hard to argue against simple courtesies and no one really enjoys having some knucklehead blabbing away on their phone when in near proximity to our lunch or dinner. But there’s a real difference in approach. Ibrahim and Korban gently bribe you into good behavior. Bucato wields a policy and tells you to conform or else. And Pepino admits that they can’t stop you from being rude but they can charge you exorbitantly for the privilege. While there may be some valuable lessons on motivation to take away from this, what’s startling is the extent to which restaurateurs are going to just to get folks to treat on another with respect. And it is, ultimately, a matter of respect. We are living in an age where individual “rights” trump civil behavior and technology lets us live in personal cocoons. We’re disruptive with our smartphones because the connection between ourselves and the device blot out awareness of other people. We’re sharp tongued and rude because our technology has taught us to be impulsive when expressing our feelings. Perhaps we should focus less on ourselves and pay more attention to those social cues that remind us that we live in communities. When you’re out and about, treat everyone in every place with dignity, courtesy and respect. We may find fewer discounts, but life will be richer and the coffee will be cheaper.      —Ebert  

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