Spain Jobless Restaurant Customers Work Rather Than Pay the Bill

People who cannot afford to eat out are being offered an alternative menu by a Spanish restaurant: do an hour’s work rather than pay the bill.

In a move echoing similar initiatives elsewhere during the recession, the Troboda in Catalonia caters partly for the long-term unemployed who live below the poverty line.

In return for a free meal they give up some time either serving, cleaning or washing up.

Julia Gonzalez is one such “time customer’, as they’re called. She lost her job as a cleaner two years ago. After dessert she dons an apron and takes to the kitchen.

“I think this is great. I love it. Since I have been here I feel more optimistic. I have made lots of friends. We all stick together and encourage each other. It is a unique opportunity.”

The restaurant is part of a social club. Half the meals are served as part of the work exchange scheme, a joint venture with Terrassa city council and 30 local charities.

“Soup kitchens have to play a social role, this restaurant scheme is different. They’re complementary. This is aimed at people wanting to regain and strengthen their self-esteem. People wanting to improve their daily lives,” said the restaurant’s manager, Xavier Casas.

He estimates that more than 15,000 hours of voluntary work will be generated during the project’s first year.

About a quarter of the scheme’s budget comes from paying customers. The work exchange scheme is seen as an alternative way of contributing to the economy – and helping some of Spain’s long-term unemployed.

In the first quarter of 2013 the number of people out of work stood at 6.2 million. More than half of them (3.5 million) have been jobless for more than a year.