By: Johayna Khaldieh
Each minute seems to last an eternity. Mistakes are forbidden as cooks, waiters and organizers work nonstop up until the arrival of that long-awaited moment that people ache for: the moment when the Ramadan cannon is fired announcing the breaking of the fast.
After the cannon is fired, nothing is heard for several minutes — the customers’ words get lost in the feast. Both Eastern and Western dishes, appetizers, sweets and juices are eaten and drunk uncontrollably.
The month of Ramadan is usually a month for good deeds. However, it also involves displays of lavishness, luxury, exaggeration and fullness.
For many, these 30 days are an occasion to enjoy feasts, perform social duties and indulge in exaggerated fun and relaxation. All of these activities can be gathered under one headline: iftar [the breaking of the fast] in restaurants, hotels and Ramadan tents. While some charities seek to organize free meals for the poor, Beirut's iftars in no way resemble these kinds of Ramadan habits. People who have been fasting arrive at restaurants wearing clothes and adornments suitable for parties and weddings. Ramadan feasts begin with iftars and rich dishes. Some include muwashshahat [a type of traditional sung poetry] performances, while others end with song and dance parties.
The daily iftar takes multiple forms. Each restaurant offers a variety of dishes, desserts, juices and, of course, prices.
A tour around Beirut's restaurants reveals the following: iftars are not for the poor or middle classes, and they could not be unless the quality, quantity and hygiene employed in preparing the meals were compromised to lower the prices. A family of four needs at least $133 for one iftar outside the house — not including tax. Many expensive restaurants are completely booked throughout the whole month. It is as if the economic crisis and people's low purchasing power have vanished for some Lebanese who do not hesitate to spring for such occasions. An iftar soirée
Many restaurants in downtown Beirut offer specials for Ramadan iftars, the primary reason being the decrease in the number of Arab and Gulf tourists to the city. This group usually makes up the largest part of the target market for such events.
This year, however, most restaurants are targeting local customers. They are offering iftar for $25 to $30. One restaurant manager said: “This price takes into account the economic crisis while preserving the profit margin. The restaurants wait for the summer months and especially for Ramadan to compensate for the great losses incurred during winter.”
The manager pointed out that "services and other products such as fruit and water pipes, which are not included in the total price of the iftar, are supposed to bring in greater profits for the restaurant.”
"Thus, the iftar turns from an evening meal into an event that lasts for hours and sometimes until the suhoor [the meal eaten by those who fast before sunrise]. Customers begin with basic foods. They then indulge in sweets, fruits, juices and water pipes, and watch the TV series displayed on the big screens in restaurants, a service offered to customers to entice them to stay longer in restaurants,” the manager said.
Restaurants compete to offer attractive prices for a “bouquet” of services and meals in an effort to make up for their economic stagnation from before the beginning of Ramadan. However, they do not always succeed in achieving their goal.
On the other side of the city, in a huge restaurant that lies on the road between the Beirut and the airport, the scene turns into a kind of "demonstration." More than 2,000 clients are spread out across hundreds of tables scattered everywhere possible. The restaurant offers traditional Ramadan meals for $20 per person.
10% of the minimum wage
The restaurant at one of Beirut’s most important hotels serves a variety of Ramadan iftars which range from Lebanese cuisine to Chinese, French, Italian and even Japanese food. Sushi, which is not a traditional meal, is also served in Ramadan. At this restaurant, the international food offered drives up the cost of an iftar per person is nearly $50, or one-tenth of the monthly Lebanese minimum wage. The cost of a suhoor in one of the same hotel's restaurants is not much less — $40 per person. It is ironic that many NGOs as well as women’s, civil and religious organizations choose to hold iftar fundraisers in these kinds of restaurants. Fast-food iftars
Fast-food restaurants in Beirut usually change their menus during this month and offer Lebanese dishes with appetizers instead of sandwiches. Brochures and leaflets advertising special Ramadan meals can be found everywhere. These restaurants offer delivery service. The biggest challenge these establishments face is delivering on time to customers who will not accept even a single minute of delay during Ramadan.
In front of the largest restaurant in Beirut’s Hamra district, the scene is frantic, especially for the staff. Upon receiving a phone call, the restaurant must be precise with the order, thoroughly inquire about the address, the nearest point of reference, the neighborhood’s name, and the phone number. It must also promise to deliver on time for the iftar.
The delivery order is taken up by the various personnel at the restaurant, and when they finish, a delivery man collects and flys to each address on his motorcycle. The fact remains that delivering hundreds of orders on time for the iftar is a semi-impossible mission, no matter how fast and meticulous the employees are.
Quality may be the first victim to fall to the speedy process. During this time it slides to its lowest levels, says Nada, 40, a bank employee who occasionally orders from these fast-food restaurants. She said that the fact that she has a job and three children means that she does not have enough time to always prepare food at home, adding that a fasting person has reduced capabilities.
On the second day of Ramadan, Nada almost filed a complaint against the restaurant adjacent to her house in the Corniche al-Mazraa area of Beirut for having delivered spoiled rice and meat. She said that the restaurant owner told her that the delivery man traveled for a long while in the sun delivering other orders before he got to hers, and that her food spoiled as a result.
Ahmed, an employee in a medium-sized restaurant specialized in delivering meals, said that “during Ramadan, restaurants face huge pressure. The iftar meal should be acceptable for the customer and profitable for the restaurant.”
“The customer sometimes is not aware that the restaurant’s costs include wages, electricity, diesel or gas and raw food materials,” Ahmad said. “The increase in vegetable and raw material prices affects the restaurants as well. Therefore the high cost of meals, whether they are being made at home or in the restaurant, is inevitable during this month.”
The English content was translated
by Al-Monitor. All rights reserved.
This article was first published in Arabic on 23/7/2012. Read original article.