Until I opened Fawda, I never conceived the idea of wasta in a restaurant.
Having been brought up to look in disdain at the whole concept and been taught never ever to try obtaining anything by wasta, always by hard work and merit, the vague concept of wasta was something I abhorred but never really understood.
Fast forward a few years into opening Fawda in Bethlehem, we had established a budding reputation as being a nice restaurant and then being a few meters away from the Nativity Church, with Christmas approaching, wasta hit!
Our modest space and small team could only accommodate a few diners at a time and we were rapidly booked out for the night of the 24th of December. A total frenzy in getting things ready and my phone started ringing into what I later dubbed the “Wasta Tawla” or the proverbial table by wasta.
People I knew or who claimed they knew me were calling either for themselves or for their friends to get a table, even though they had been told by reservations that we were full! And I made the mistake to try accommodating them all…
I discovered that not only does wasta mean producing a table that we don’t really have available, but it seems it also meant that if we said we could accommodate the booking at 21h00, thinking that the guests starting their dinner at 18h30 would have finished by then, you gave yourself the right to walk into the restaurant at 19h30 instead of 21h00 and demand your table right away!
Not only that, but then you wastafarians would treat the team with condescending words and have the nerve to walk up to the kitchen door and tell the chef off (i.e the chef who has been working hard since 6 am to create a nice Christmas gustative experience)!
This evolved into the “Wasta Tawla” being used for tables outside, for tables at odd hours, for telling the chef that you do want to come dine but that the menu and fresh produce idea does not appeal to you but because you have or you are a wasta, we need to cook for you something in total disregard of the restaurant’s identity and ethos.
Very often I laughed it off and accommodated some of the things I could, but often I just thought it totally bizarre.
There are varying types of “Wasta Tawla” — the ones who call you and just impose themselves, the ones who disguise their networking in so much goodwill, and the ones you can’t really refuse! But whatever the situation, I would feel always like Basil Fawlty, trying to balance all those requests while being a pig-headed chef trying not to sacrifice the quality of our cuisine and service.
For the “Wasta Tawla” artists or wastafarians, please remember, we always try to accommodate you but years later when we are asked to write about WASTA! we remember each one of you and relive all the stress you caused.
I’ve saved the best for last here: those who when you use your “Wasta Tawla” to get a table and then complain throughout the meal that this wasn’t the type of cuisine you had in mind, that that you would have been better off going to KFC, etc.
Funny how actually people who genuinely liked the place, the food and got along well with the team got better service than those who plied “Wasta Tawla” … and the “Wasta Tawla” fades into a long throbbing Raga in one’s mind…