Wake Up Call

Restaurant in Spain Lets Unemployed Customers Work for Their Meals

If you've ever forgotten your wallet, you've probably spent at least a few seconds wondering just what would happen if you ate at a restaurant but couldn't pay. Would they really make you roll up your sleeve and clean some dishes to make up for the cost? Would they have you take out bins of sticky, dripping trash?

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At La Trobada in Terrassa, Catalonia, Spain, the answer would be, yes. In fact, they invite customers who would otherwise be unable to dine at their establishment to pay for their meal with manual labor. Want an entree? That'll be two hours of dish duty, please.

But the truth behind the fresh idea isn't as lighthearted as it might seem at first glance.

You see, the restaurant adopted the work-for-food model of payment in response to the crippling recession that's left many of its local customers (and people all over Spain) jobless and living below the poverty line. The restaurant is a joint project of the Terrassa city council and 30 local charities.

Unlike a soup kitchen or other place where people can get handouts, La Trobada helps improve and sustain people's confidence, they say.

"This is aimed at people wanting to regain and strengthen their self-esteem. People wanting to improve their day-to-day situation. This gives them hope for the future," restaurant manager Xavier Casas said.

The restaurant estimates that it serves about 70 meals a day, about half of which are paid for by "time customers," as they call them. The menu is simple: Everything costs 6.5 euros (or about $8) and that price includes a starter, a main course, dessert, bread, water, and wine.

For the past several years, the country has struggled from a financial crisis that's left millions unemployed. The work-exchange initiative isn't an entirely new idea, but the restaurant estimates that it will generate more than 15,000 hours of volunteer work this year.

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