Beirut, Asharq Al-Awsat—New restaurant Motto, just off Mar Mikhael’s main street in Beirut, is the first in Lebanon to invite customers to draw up their own bills.
The ‘pay-what-you-want’ concept was imported from restaurants around the world, where some eateries have been running an honor system for three decades. The idea was brought to Lebanon by restaurateurs Mohammad Fayad and Tony Sfeir who opened Motto earlier this month.
Motto suggests a minimum donation of 9,000 Lebanese pounds (6 US dollars), but it is up to the customer exactly how much they shell out for their meal.
“We sought to offer a delicious meal to customers in return for the lowest price possible in an atmosphere that is simple and comfortable at the same time,” Fayad tells Asharq Al-Awsat.
But in running a business dependent on honesty, profitability may quickly become an issue. Fayad admits: “We did not conduct a precise feasibility study about this particular issue, nor did we fully assess the anticipated result.” But the pair are confident the business will thrive: “When this idea occurred to me, and when I spoke to my friend Tony Sfeir, who is knowledgeable about the restaurant industry, we both decided to go through the experience, which has been a success since the first day.”
Fayad, who is also employed as an anchor on Lebanon’s official radio station, says he relies on the generosity of the Lebanese to make a profit. He explains that “so far, all customers have paid extra money, nearly double the price on the menu.”
The restaurant is housed in a building dating back to 1959. When Fayad became the owner three years ago he decided to maintain its original features; the room is filled with marble tables, wooden seats upholstered in leather, mosaic tiles on the floors, and steel balusters bordering the balconies and entrances.
“The place has a capacity for twenty people, yet the Lebanese proverb says a narrow house can contain a thousand friends,” Fayad says. The restaurant attracts a large number of locals, tourists and foreign residents.
“I’m currently trying to attract people from the neighboring districts to receive them [the visitors]; sometimes, by the door,” Fayad explains. “This is because I want to let them know that the restaurant receives visitors from all social categories and that its prices are considered fair compared to other neighboring expensive restaurants.”
Motto serves an international cuisine including dishes from Lebanon, Sri Lanka, Ethiopia, India and Spain. “We sought to offer new things that are not available in Lebanon . . . In the days to come, we may consider adding dishes from, for example, the Pilipino cuisine.”
The restaurant will only be open for lunch from 1–4 pm. “In the future we may open for dinner after we receive calls from numerous customers who are interested in dining in our restaurant,” Fayad says.
When Asharq Al-Awsat visited, customers praised both the food and the prices.
Nimal, the Sri Lankan head chef in Motto’s kitchen, says he likes the taste of Lebanese dishes most. “I came to Lebanon a long time ago,” Nimal says. “I worked in a restaurant washing the dishes, from there my cooking hobby started to take shape and it became my distinguished skill. So, today I can cook delicious Sri Lankan and Lebanese dishes that I’m proud of.”
The pay-what-you-want restaurant forces a customer to judge the value of food and the dining experience. Fortunately, the popular proverb “You are generous and we do not deserve it” rings true among Lebanese society, especially for those who like trying and tasting new things.