Eight Chinese tourists in Israel recently managed to rack up a hefty $4,390 bill at a local hummus restaurant. Last week, the outrageous bill was posted onto Facebook, leading many to believe that the diners surely must have been ripped off. However, that doesn’t necessarily seem to be the case.
Interestingly, the bill wasn’t posted online by the Chinese travelers themselves, but by Yossi Fattal, the head of the Israel Incoming Tour Operators Association. It comes from Abu Ghosh Restaurant, a famous hummus joint located in a village of the same name in the Jerusalem Hills. The restaurant is known for its cheap and hearty dishes, leaving many to shake their heads in wonder at the bottom line on the Chinese tourists’ bill — 16,500 shekels ($4,390 or nearly 30,000 yuan).
Just how did they manage to eat their way to that ludicrous number? Well, Israeli financial newspaper Globes published a copy of the bill:
4,000 shekels for a private room ($1,064)
650 shekels for hors d’oeuvres and salads ($173)
5,900 shekels for alcohol ($1,569)
3,150 shekels for main courses ($838)
1,350 shekels for desserts ($359)
1,500 shekels for service charge ($400)
Total: 16,500 shekels ($4,390)
Yossi Fattal said that the restaurant had obviously ripped off the Chinese tourists and argued that the incident would harm Israel in the eyes of the Chinese travelers.
A group of eight Chinese on a tour of Abu Ghosh stopped to eat at the Abu Ghosh Restaurant. The bill they received is attached. There may be a billion Chinese, but they may not all be suckers. These Chinese said they would not be back and would not recommend their friends to visit Israel.
Naive customers are a very shaky basis for a business plan, and by behaving this way we are destroying with our own hands the budding potential of the Chinese market for Israel.
However, restaurant owner Jawdat Ibrahim has responded to the controversy, saying that the bill was completely fair — heck, he even thinks he could have charged more. Ibrahim explained that he had to shut down the restaurant on a normally busy Friday night for the eight Chinese tourists, who ordered an entire lamb and expensive bottles of alcohol:
I received a telephone call that a group of Chinese tourists wanted to come to the restaurant, on condition that we close the restaurant to all other diners,” he said. “We are talking about a Friday, and Friday and Saturday are the busiest days of the week for us. We have room for 300 people, and we closed it all for this group, which had the whole place to itself.
They sat there from 3 pm on Friday until midnight, and became rowdy and drunk. They asked me to buy alcoholic drinks that I paid thousands of shekels for. They asked that the bar should be kept available, they asked for 30 kg of stuffed mutton and other dishes. It wasn’t a case of eating and leaving, and they even took all their leftovers with them afterwards.
The truth is that I thought that they should pay much more, since I had no other diners that day. They enjoyed themselves and thanked me, and now, two weeks later, they’re trying to besmirch us. This was a realistic cost for the meal. We have meals for NIS 20 as well, and there are meals with a cost like this. If you analyze the total, you will realize that it is not a lot for what they received.
But, Yossi Fattal has disputed Ibrahim’s account of the night in question. He says that the tourists arrived after 7 p.m., staying for only 5 hours. Also, he argues that Ibrahim was not forced to shut down the whole restaurant for eight Chinese diners. The restaurant does not have private rooms, so Ibrahim closed off one of the rooms for the Chinese diners, but other parts of the restaurant remained opened, Fattal contests, adding that the expensive alcohol was already on the table when the Chinese tourists arrived at the restaurant.
“The Association decided to make this incident public in order to illustrate the importance of fair and polite treatment of tourists who come to Israel and are an important sector of the country’s economy. Incoming tourism represents about 15% of total exports of services by the State of Israel, and is an important generator of employment in the periphery,” Fattal said.
Despite Fattal’s apparent good intentions, others have argued that this whole thing is nothing more than a storm in a teacup. The Chinese tourists themselves never complained about the bill. In fact, they paid for the meal in cash on the spot and even added on a 10% tip. Apparently, Fattal is unfamiliar with Chinese high-rollers’ love for showing off their wealth.
Furthermore, nobody even knows who these Chinese tourists are. Currently, Israel’s Foreign Ministry and China’s embassy in Israel are both searching for the diners. But the meal seems to have taken place 2 months ago and it’s likely that the tourists know nothing about the uproar they created.