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Saudi restaurant charges customers for wasted food

posted 17 Oct 2011, 09:16 by Sam Mbale

Visitors to one restaurant in Saudi Arabia's oil-rich eastern province will think twice before leaving food on their plates as the restaurant has begun charging an additional tax to customers who leave excess food behind in a bid to cut down food waste.

DAMMAM, SAUDI ARABIA (OCTOBER 13, 2011) (REUTERS - Marmar, a small restaurant in the eastern Saudi city of Dammam, has begun charging customers extra if they leave food behind on their plates in a bid to cut food waste.

Signs warn diners that they face a restaurant-imposed "tax" if they fail to finish their meals, but many still voice surprise when they are asked to pay the additional charge to a charity fund in a bid to deter customers ordering too much food.

"I was a bit surprised when I came to pay the bill. The cashier told me that I have to pay a fine because we ordered extra food. He said that we did not finish our food. Therefore, he made us pay a fine. But the idea is beautiful and we will pay willingly. I hope that all restaurants start doing this," Akkel Al Oniazi said.

The extra charge is meant to eventually act as a deterrant for people from ordering too much but many diners paying the fine said they supported the idea and were happy to be fined money for the benefit of a good cause.

"I'm not angry at all. This thing (idea) is beneficial not only for me, but for the entire society. It makes me happy (to see this idea happening). I hope that all the restaurants apply it," Bassam Al Onaizi told Reuters after paying his fine.

Some of the fines are sent as charitable donations to famine-stricken Somalia.

"Of course, the fine is moral, more so it's mandatory. It is meant to to teach individuals that this behaviour (wasting food) is wrong. This will help us reach a stage where we will stop (wasting food). Regarding the fines paid, it will be given to charities through official channels in order to support our brother in Somalia and other places," says the owner of Marmar restaurant, Fahad Al Anzi.

Fahad Al Anzi said that he started thinking about this initiative in August when a statement by the United Nations said that famine had spread to other parts of the south of Somalia.

"The idea (of a fine) actually began when the (famine) story of Somalia came approximately in the middle of the month of Ramadan, then the idea started developing. We can see the contradiction between the amount of wasted food during banquets or in restaurants, which I can see myself as an owner, in comparison to the situation of famine in Somalia," he said.

A statement by the United Nations said that famine has spread into three new areas in the south of Somalia and warned that famine conditions were expected to persist across southern Somalia until the end of the year.

Much of southern Somalia is controlled by al Shabaab Islamist militants who last year banned food aid and kicked many aid groups out of the region, exacerbating the drought crisis.

Drought, conflict and a lack of food aid have left 3.6 million people at risk of starvation in southern Somalia.

Fahad Al Anzi told Reuters that the idea of fines for leftovers did not negatively affect his business and he encourages others to follow suit.

"Thank God. In fact, the percentage of sales have increased since we started applying this idea and I encourage all restaurants in the Kingdom and outside it to apply this idea," he said.