The quality of food in restaurants in Israel can be classified by the price of a meal. For example, a simple lunch cost in Tel Aviv about $30, in Tiberias $15, Haifa $25, Eilat $30 and in Jerusalem it cost about $25. The quality of the food is average I must say. The price indicates the quality (and location), but there is much more to say about that.
Restaurants can be large and part of a chain like MacDonald, and it can be family owned. Many of the Arab restaurants are family owned and managed mostly by the father, while his suns are serving the food and his brother is making the food.
When you browse the surroundings of the Carmel Market in Tel Aviv, you might find tiny and cozy restaurants run by students. They make the food themselves and serve it. If you are looking for quality food, you will not find it here. When you do your homework good before you come to Israel to eat, visit the trip adviser on the internet to have an idea about the restaurants and its prices.
Especially in Jerusalem, when restaurants see a group of tourists approaching, the prices suddenly go up and the quality down. They will be prepared to serve the standard “tourist food”; bad quality of meat, chips overdone, hummus bad and old, salad a bit off, etc. When you eat at such restaurant, just look at the table of an Arab family and you will notice the difference what’s on their table and yours. And you might also pay two times more then them.
The charm of such restaurants is the service. The server is male, very friendly and speaks English in a charming way and he knows it. He flirts around and advises you about the food and describes everything very well. He’s very forthcoming with other information and shows real interest in everyone. The problem is in the kitchen; they know who gets the good and who gets the bad food. They store the meat in their coolers and freezers and if there is fresh meat, it’s stored on a certain location and the old meat is not thrown away. It’s possible that you, as a tourist, eat a week-old meat You see this also happening in many ‘good’ and well known hotels as well.
In Safed you can find many Jewish owned restaurants, which are mostly small and cozy. The food is good, fresh and tourists don’t get ripped of by definition. The owner, who’s mostly the cook and the server at the same time is excellent at what he’s doing.
During our tours, the reaction of many restaurant owners are … funny. You need to pay attention to the owner of the restaurant (especially the Arab owned restaurants) when they see us approaching. His eyes are widening when he recognizes one of our guides and suddenly it’s all polite, happy, bowing, moving from the normal table to the VIP table; the whole family comes out (including the cooks) and when the food arrives, it’s of the best quality. Why? He got a visit from us before the group arrives and he is aware what will happen when he offers bad service.
With our Food and Wine tours, we don’t visit those type of restaurants, but only restaurants with a chef, who cooks for us personally. And there is a reason for. If the price for a normal average lunch in Tel Aviv is $30, we pay more then $75 and that is reason enough for the best service and the best food the chef can create.
In our other tours the quality of the food is important and our guides are functioning as the Quality Control. In case that there is a problem, there will be hell to pay for the restaurant in question and they loose our business immediately. There was one time a problem with a restaurant in Jerusalem, where they served food for the normal tourists instead of the high quality they usually serve. The guides immediately took action and left the restaurant to eat somewhere else (we have always alternatives), while our very angry manager was visiting the guilty restaurant.
The same is the case for hotels. A big international hotel, part of a large chain, was serving bad quality of food; the meat was chemically prepared (coloring) and was old. The problem with hotels is that the personnel is mostly ignorant and there are no or not many servers. They are all the same with their self service. You don’t see what’s in the kitchens and what’s in their freezers. The chance of getting old meat is very possible, whatever the hotel is. Also here our guides interfere if that’s the case.
Today you see a downfall of many hotels in Israel. For example, in Tiberias there is a well known hotel, really nice and fancy white building, but when you look closer, you see the cracks on the outside, the plaster falling from the building and it’s already more then 30 years old without obvious maintenance. The owner of such hotel feels it’s more important to give money to the needed in Israel then to maintain his own hotels and taking care for good service and product. The rooms itself are looking nice, but the carpets are worn out, the furniture in the rooms shabby and old, etc. The prices from those hotels are expensive and that might indicate quality!? In this case not.
Most of the tour operators are sending their groups to such hotel, because it’s well known, it looks fancy from the outside and from a distance, it’s located at the center and they get good deals from the hotel itself.
And then you have the service from those hotels. The people who are running those hotels are mostly Arab people, who hardly speak English. They are friendly and willingly to help, but to get real assistance you will not find it. Also those hotels have many native Israeli guests and they seem to have another sense of quality and service.
The hotels we are using for our tours are different. We inspect the rooms and the kitchens (we take a look in the freezers, kitchens and personnel areas) and the service before each tour. We speak with the cleaners, servers, cooks and the desk people to see if they at least speak English and test their dedication. In the same city Tiberias there is a hotel, whose intention is to give high standing service and they really do. Their rooms are modern and classy and their service top-notch. When our group arrives at such hotel, the management of the hotel is very aware and we (as group) have always additional VIP service.
And then there is the default problem of guided tours in Israel. There is many times a connection between the hotels, restaurants, shops and the guides. The guides get many times money if they ‘deliver’ a group of tourists, and that money must be earned back on the quality of the food. In our tours the change that this happens is small.
First of all, the guides don’t choose any restaurant or hotel and the arrangements are always made by the management of Shalom Israel. If a guide is caught by accepting money from hotel, restaurant or shop, he or she will be fired (without pay) on the spot and replaced by another immediately.
Most of the tours in Israel offer freelance guides. Those people work several months a year intensely and take the rest of the time off. They get paid around $100 per day, cash in on bribes from restaurants, hotels and shops about another $100 and they receive tips from their group (about $30-$50). Our guides (seldom freelancers, mostly our own guides) get paid $200 a day and get bonus if they do a good job. Why our own guides? They are getting trained by us before they can work as a guide for one of our tours and groups. Knowing something about the sights is not enough to ‘play’ guide.
A typical example of such guide is when you watch him or her in action in Tiberias. The guide is dragging the group to the shore and harbor in Tiberias for the traditional boat trip. What the group doesn’t know is that the guide gets paid $2 per person in the group. The boat company is trying to earn the money back by shortening the boat drive (from 45 minutes to 20 minutes) (under blaring Israeli music). Then the guide speaks after the boat trip for a minute and explains what Tiberias is and it’s history. And all of that in one minute. Then there will be the walk ‘through the city‘, where everyone can see the local bank, some restaurants, some ruins (from a distance) and then as fast as possible in the bus for the next sight.
That’s not the way how things are done with us. Our guides will explain (with maps, books, posters) what Tiberias and the Sea of Galilee is from the bus to actually arriving at the harbor. Then the group enters the boat and we will have an hour long relaxing trip (without the blaring music). The group will catch fish if they want (like in the time of Jesus), you are allowed to swim if you want! During the trip, the captain of the boat will tell you much more about the Sea of Galilee.
For the religious tours there will be a Holy Mass if they want!
After the boat ride we go into Tiberias and get the feel of this ancient city (more then only watching a bank and some shops). We will visit a little castle, see some examples of structures the crusaders left behind, visit ancient burial places for the Jews, Arabs and Christians, visit the tourist information center and see the expositions of art, visit the ancient healthy natural springs, etc. And then there are the restaurants we will visit in detail and eat the St. Peters fish (only available in the Sea of Galilee, which cost normally a fortune outside Tiberias). For those who caught their own fish during the boat trip, they can let the chef prepare it and eat it yourself.
A proof that there is quality in restaurants in Israel is the Israeli Food and Wine tour. If you look at the breakfasts everyone gets each day, it tells that the quality is indeed high. During this tour, each day everyone gets a different type of breakfast, defined by a different theme. For example, you get the fish theme, or the one with the different kind of pancakes (pancakes fantasy, where you can eat your breakfast with pancakes from all over the world, like pancakes with pizza-pancakes, cheese, meat, chocolate, fruit, ice-cream. Then there is the sweet breakfast, which you can find in Holland. Or the fish breakfast, or the bread breakfast, etc. All those breakfasts are specially prepared (and sometimes designed and created by various chefs) for us in restaurants (hotels are not designed to offer that).