Hachikyo, a seafood restaurant in Sapporo, Japan, began to charge its customers for not finishing the restaurant’s popular dish, “Tsukko Meshi,” a rice bowl topped with salmon roe (egg masses). The restaurant says it is to show appreciation to the fisherman who provide the food. Inspired by these news, a Mexican restaurant owner in the U.S. is moved to do the same and begins to charge his customers for not finishing his most popular dish.
“Sins and Insults”
After hearing about Hachikyo, the Japanese seafood restaurant in Sapporo that began charging visitors for not finishing their food, I decided to implement this new practice and instructed my staff right away about the changes.
First I thought about my best dish, the one I’m most proud of and one that I consider an insult any time someone leaves leftovers. It’s my signature dish, my specialty, pork nachos. We attached a message to each menu at the top of this item that read similarly to Hachikyo’s. We noted, “The working conditions of farmers are arduous and at times dangerous. To show gratitude for the quality food they provide us, we discourage any leftovers associated with this dish. If you do not finish your pork nachos you will be charged a mandatory donation of $5 which will go to support farmers. Thank you for joining us in showing our appreciation to them.”
Now, I don’t know the farmers who provide my pork, but I know the middlemen and I know the source. My brother in Mexico does farm and I know the hard work it is, and I know the love he has for it and the pleasure it brings him to provide food for his clients. To sell nachos here in the states, to top them with soft, slowly-cooked shredded pork chunks, to practically serve eatable works of art for under ten dollars and have people leave half untouched is an insult to me and the entire chain of producers that brings our customers their food.
I thought it an excellent move to put this idea to work right away, and if asked where specifically the required donation will go, the plan is to say the truth, that the money will go to my brother who farms in Mexico and deserves the benefit of our leftover sins and insults.
Now, my client base is solid. My restaurant has been open for 22 years and they know my quality. My place is small, our tables are always taken and take-outs are a constant stream of calls. I would hate to lose customers over this new strategy but I hope to gain the respect of my long-term fans. And in so doing my brother would receive the positive consequences of all this that I do up here. And my real customers would not have a problem finishing my nachos.
I talked to all my waiters and waitresses. We only have a rotating crew of 7, so it wasn’t hard. We went over the instructions in the couple of days before announcing the change.
“If they order the nachos, give them a few seconds to see if they ask about the message on the menu. If they ask about it, answer their questions. Tell them it is real. Tell them the charge for not finishing their entire plate is five dollars, and that it is a donation to farmers who make this food a possibility. The chips are included. Tell them that if they cannot finish this dish, they should order something else or consider sharing. Take home containers are not allowed for this dish,” I said.
“What if they don’t ask about it?” Sondra asked, one of my waitresses.
“If they don’t ask about it, they have no questions. They have read it and they’re ordering it. But for the first few days, I want you to ask them if they read the message and know the rules.”
Others had a lot of suggestions and questions, mostly against the idea, but I had thought long about this, and 22 years of seeing portions of my food being thrown away, sometimes big portions, brought me to this. And I can only thank Japan. I serve good portions, but for the right appetite. Not for barrels of trash.
On the day we began, I left the kitchen and was on deck, doing little to nothing other than observe and be available for anyone who needed my help. We started it during lunch and handed out the new menus to incoming groups. I greeted our customers, many of them couples and families. I stood around the counter with an eye for people’s reactions. One man, a regular, had Marcos, one of my waiters, call me to his table after his order.
“I heard about this Japanese restaurant, read this on the news. This must be why you’re doing it,” the man said. His name was Claudio. He was about my age, close to his 60’s. “You’re a funny man Luciano. Why the nachos, and why are the chips included too?”
“So you agree with our request? You know the nachos are my most famous dish Claudio, and I don’t want any waste.” He said it wasn’t a problem for him, congratulated me and wished me good luck. A few moments later I saw that he was quickly half way done with them.
Things continued to go. I had heard laughs, saw people lift their eyebrows, saw some confusion, but mostly if people wanted the nachos they ordered them. There was no problem. I was called to another table at the end of lunch, for a couple who was sitting across from one another. He was white and she was a Latina.
“She thought she could, but she can’t finish this,” the man said.
“I think it’s great that you are making people think of what they should order or what they can eat,” the woman said.
“Thank you. I hope you enjoyed what you ate,” I said. “Unfortunately we will have to require you to donate five dollars for this.” I smiled. She really had no business eating that much, she had a lean body.
“In her country it is against her culture to finish their food completely,” the man said. “It implies that not enough was served by the host and it looks impolite. So you’re lucky you’re–”
“You’ve got to be fucking kidding me here,” I heard another man say behind my back. I turned around and saw Sondra my waitress looking my way. “I’m stuffed to the brim with these animals you’ve fed me, that’s why there are leftovers,” I heard the man tell her. “There’s no way in hell you’re fucking serious about this.”
“Excuse me,” I told the couple, then turned around to walk three tables down to the opposite side of the restaurant. “Did you read the note before you ordered the nachos, or did Sondra tell you the rules for this dish?” I asked.
“No I didn’t, what rules? She didn’t say a word to me. I just saw the bill. I asked her why so high and she said that she charged me five dollars for not finishing my nachos.”
“I asked if he read the note,” said Sondra. “I thought he knew.”
“Sir, we have a special note for this dish in our menu. We are showing gratitude to the farmers who make our food possible, and we are requiring a five dollar donation from every person who does not finish this dish. Bring the menu, Sondra.”
“I don’t give a shit what kind of fees you’re adding on to this bill but I’m not paying five dollars for not finishing this,” he said. “I can’t eat anymore, this is fucking America and there’s no way in hell you’re forcing me to eat pork till I drop.”
“Sir, please leave my restaurant. You don’t need to pay anything, and don’t ever come back.”
“You guys are fucking crazy,” he said, grabbed his jacket and left through the front door. Sondra was holding the menu by the cashier. I said sorry publicly to the three remaining parties inside. As I walked back to the couple, another customer, the head of a family, said, “I finished my nachos! No charge for me!” We laughed. I made it back to the couple.
“I’m sorry,” I said. “Thank you for not reacting like that man.”
“I was saying,” the man said. “You’re lucky you’re in Los Angeles and not in her country, Paraguay. I was going to say this wouldn’t fly too well there, but you’ve got your own challenges here.”
“Eating nachos is not a challenge. Making them is.”
Link to the real-life story that inspired “Sins and Insults”: Sapporo Restaurant Fines Customers for Leaving Leftovers, VIDEO: Japanese Restaurant Charges for Leftover Food