Israel, at your service

Amongst the back benches of synagogue congregations across the UK, it is a hot topic of conversation. That low tone murmur that forces the Rabbi to bang his fist down and look across to the hordes with scorn. The frantic discussion in the pews is suitably found in Shul, for these are concerns of great enormity within the British Jewish community – the standards of service on your last holiday to Israel.

This service I refer to extends primarily to the leisure industry in Israel. The hotels, the bars, the restaurants etc. So what do we mean by ‘bad’ service and is it really that bad?

The beach bars of Tel Aviv are the best places to witness lame service at its unfriendly best. Over-priced products, sprayed onto your table by waiting staff who lament the day Easyjet started flying further afield than Malaga. When we bring our Sterling over the Med, we want to see it rewarded. So when we receive lukewarm service from someone who doesn’t want to be there, or worse, doesn’t want you to be there – it riles a Brit to boiling. Whereas we perhaps once dismissed this foible of Israel holidays as an annoyance or possibly even amusing – the slide of the diminishing pound against the Shekel has rendered us seething. How dare they? This Goldstar is costing me £7! 

I’ll give you another fun example. One time I was poodling on my bike down Rothschild Blvd and popped my head into one of the coffee kiosks there. Just me and the girl behind the counter, who was whisking some kind of Levantine gravy. She didn’t look up to greet me, even though I was audibly panting (from the bike ride, not over the gravy). So with the apparent denial of my existence, I stood there in disbelief and protest for an increasingly awkward amount of time trying to catch her eye. Half lemon, half shopping bag guy from Tiananmen Square. This farce continued for a minute of whisking, until I buckled and accepted her victory. OK, she might have been having a bad day. Yes, her gravy was probably more exciting and handsome than me – it certainly smelled better. But I want to spend my Shekels on your produce, so sort yourself out! This is of course, an unthinkable scene in England (and for sure the States).

This notion starts with the perception that Israelis can be rude and unfriendly. Direct at best. This, of course, is a rough generalisation and is a separate debate all together, because people being paid to do a job is a different kettle of gefilte fish to how people are in public. When you walk into a bar, you expect a friendly welcome, a smile and suitably affable service throughout your experience. 

Without meaning to state the obvious, once something becomes more expensive, expectations become higher. And it’s likely there’s a chasm between Israel becoming an increasingly pricey place to visit and the services matching the cost. From a purely financial point of view, a family of 5 could, for the same price as a week in Tel Aviv, just as easily go on a 5 star all-inclusive jaunt to Playa Del Carmen and be made to feel like the Kardashians under a shower of massages, cocktails and child care.

And what about the hotels here? Many of them appear tired to a Western eye. A concrete freeze frame from the 70s. My favourite bit about these hotels is the loyalty that tourists have to them, and how it can be gossip-worthy when one NW London family hears of another’s migration to a different accommodation.

Food and drink in Israel, in particular Tel Aviv, has gone off the charts in terms of quality over the last few years. Praise be. In a relatively short space of time, there are way more restaurants serving incredible food, and cocktail bars getting us merry. Some fancy, some not. 

I personally believe that with this shift in quality, a new found zest for service is being found amongst the workers in the leisure industry. I can tell you first-hand that the company I work for in Tel Aviv, places the customer experience at the forefront of their objectives. In our bar, an audible ‘EREV TOV’ flies towards the customer as they walk through the door. A wave as you come, a cuddle and a chaser as you go.

And once one venue pioneers a style and others see that they need to follow, the game gets raised. Kudos to my employers who are probably responsible for some of this culture change in Tel Aviv. I’d say 90% of my encounters with coffee shop workers in Israel have scaled somewhere between ‘decent’ and ‘I could marry this guy’. 

The way workers receive money here is different too. The tips you all give, like in much of the USA, form the wages, rather than it coming from the employer. So to simplify, if it’s bad tips for the night, it’s bad wages. This therefore forces the hand of the bar or waiting staff to ensure that they are doing their job properly but also with a smile on their face or a joke up their sleeve to entice you to drop that 15% on the top. 

Poor service standards can be a tough pill to swallow for non-Israeli Jews because steeped in their consciousness, is the absolute gratitude and delight that Israel exists, and minor gripes about it seem a silly complaint at all. That they can go there and eat Kosher food and have their Tzitzit hanging out without bother, is not to be understated. Being Jewish is normal and for the most-part safe. Therefore, a holiday here is by definition unlike any other. 

This country is a cocktail of people, and a brew of cultures, and its infancy as a nation is sometimes apparent. We’ll get there in the end and service in the eateries is one of those things that when it’s good, enjoy it – and when it’s bad, try to not let it get you down – or take it personally. Perspective is important. This small country is one of the most historically important places in the world to a lot of people – and all those who back its cause should do whatever they can to bring more people here. Whether that be nice service in a bar to a tourist, or educating someone who might not have been before about the amazing things there are to see, do and ingest here.  

If you love coming to Israel already, then do your best to enjoy yourself and spend your cash how and wherever you like. If you don’t love to come here and enjoy what makes this – at times – ridiculous place unique and amazing, then I hope your holidays elsewhere bring you joy and don’t cause you to complain to your Shul pals. Ein Keloheynu, Adon Alom, Tallit in the bag, Old Trafford.

About the Author
Carl is a 31 year old Brit who now lives in Tel Aviv. He's a bar owner and a quiz master
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