New York Times
5 Stars for the Soap Dispensers, and the Food's O.K., Too
By MARC LACEY
August 15, 2005
ADDIS ABABA, Ethiopia - The newspapers circulating in Ethiopia's capital have plenty of room for improvement. Typographical errors occur too frequently. Bias creeps into print regularly. But on at least one front, groundbreaking journalism is taking place here.
When it comes to restaurant reviewing - or more specifically, restroom reviewing - Fortune, a sober business weekly founded in May 2000, has created a new genre that has become required reading in this restaurant-rich capital.
Ayenew H. Selassie, left, Fortune's editor in chief, and Tamrat G. Giorgis, the managing editor, sharing traditional Ethiopian fare at Fasika. -
Photo: Antonio Firorente for The New York Times
Fortune sends three reporters out every week to one of Addis Ababa's many restaurants. The writers wine and dine anonymously, at company expense, then compare notes on food, ambiance, parking, service and price. But they do not stop there.
They also stop by the restroom, which they scrutinize just as vigorously as they do the food.
Ethiopian fare is eaten with one's hands, in communal fashion, making sanitation especially important to diners here. As Addis Ababa transforms itself from a tired capital city into a more modern metropolis, its restaurants are becoming more sophisticated and its customers more discriminating - at the table, and at the toilet.
In a recent edition, Fortune awarded three and a half stars (of a possible five) to Olive's Garden Restaurant & Lounge, an Italian establishment, in the "sanitation" category.
"The sink area is clean," the newspaper said, noting three unisex stalls. But, it said, "the liquid soap is either of a poor quality or it has been diluted. If the latter is the case, the management should know that everyone notices, and most hate it."
Before Fortune began its scrutiny, restrooms received little attention here. They were dank outposts. The joke was that waiters did not direct patrons to the facilities but just urged them to follow the smell.
"For you guys in the West, you take a clean restroom for granted," Tamrat G. Giorgis, Fortune's managing editor, said in a telephone interview. "I lived in the U.S. and you go to any restaurant and the washroom is O.K. Here, the sanitation issue is a big deal. Before we started these reviews, somewhere in a corner would be a small smelly room. It would not be a pleasant place."
But things are changing.
Because of the scrutiny by Fortune, which is published in English, and by two Amharic-language newspapers that have begun reviews of their own, restaurants are making improvements. Angry restaurant owners have threatened Fortune with lawsuits over its tough assessments, but most have just quickly cleaned up.
"Some say we are unnecessarily cruel or harsh," Mr. Tamrat said of the reviews. "We can't satisfy everyone. But now, when someone thinks of opening a restaurant, it's in the back of their mind that some people they don't know might walk in and write them up."
It could be a place like Samet Restaurant, which offers traditional Ethiopian as well as European cuisine. The reviewers found the steak "tender, delicious and sufficient in quantity." The lettuce with the tuna salad, however, was deemed not sufficiently fresh.
Outside, the restaurant offered 10 parking places, with a guard in a shabby uniform to watch over them.
Restrooms at the Fasika restaurant in Addis Ababa earned a top rating from Fortune, a local business weekly. -
Photo: Antonio Firorente for The New York Times
In the back, there was ample room for improvement. The restrooms were in a horseshoe-shaped blind alley. Giving three stars for sanitation, the newspaper said, "It is questionable how comfortable it could be for ladies, and that includes questions of safety and dignity. Two people cannot walk without jostling against each other, and as you enter into either the ladies or men's room, it almost feels like you are running into a trap."
The paper says, at the top of each review, that its intention is to offer fair, accurate assessments of each restaurant. "We hope no offense is taken, as none is intended," it says.
But the words still have to sting.
"Truly, truly there are some people who would not fit into the toilet area itself," the newspaper said of the facilities at the Hill Belt Restaurant, which earned three stars for food and three for sanitation. "If they could, it will definitely require some demolition work to get them out. Stand akimbo, and you could bang your elbows against the walls."
There were other concerns, as well. "The men's room was clean to the eyes and dry, although on one occasion there was some unpleasant smell. The toilet seat was loose, and it could not remain upright after use, which exposes it to contamination. Would it cost much to fix it?"
Actually, the owner took Fortune's criticism to heart and tightened the seat soon after the review hit newsstands.
The situation for men at Makush, a stylish restaurant and art gallery that offers Western cuisine, was found wanting. "The men's restroom was dark and cramped, and the Jackson Pollock-like splashes on paint on the wall did nothing to add to the space," Fortune said. "Also, depending on the time of day, you may find a most unpleasant and unappetizing view of a bucket filled with used toilet paper."
The women's facilities at Makush received rave reviews. "Additional rolls of toilet paper were available as was a surprisingly large can of air freshener," the reviewers found. "Single-use towels were rolled and placed in a basket, adding a touch of elegance. A red light - the kind that makes you look great, ladies! - hung over two large mirrors in the powder room, so you can look twice as good."
At Blue Drops Restaurant, the toilet seat was missing, and there was a pungent smell in the air and, "most revolting," muddy footprints on the floor. "A giant cottage-style medicine cabinet hovers ominously over the sink, which is missing a knob," the reviewers found. "Those curious enough to open the doors will be greatly disappointed to find not even a roll of toilet paper inside. A white towel hanging near the sink is visibly dirty and most unhygienic. One reviewer found clear and indisputable evidence that someone had taken a shower."
All of that merited just two stars.
Nation (Ethiopia) Secures 100mln. USD From Tourists
The Ethiopian Herald ( Addis Ababa )
August 26, 2005
The Ethiopian Tourism Commission says that 100 million US dollars has been secured from tourists that entered the country during the last budget year. Nearly 210,000 tourists have visited the country.
Commission Development and Planning Department Head Tesfaye Desalegn told ENA yesterday that most of the tourists came to visit the country's natural and historical attractions, and the remaining to attend international conferences, meetings and on other businesses.
Tesfaye said that the Commission has been engaged in aggressive promotion of the country's tourist attractions by taking part in exhibitions held in eight countries this year.
He said 20 foreign tour operators and six journalists have visited the country while a three-member British photograph and magazine team visited the Rift Valley and other sites.
Similarly, nine tour operators and journalists drawn from Scandinavian countries paid a similar visit.
Tesfaye said tourism related agreements were also concluded with various countries, including the Sudan .
He said standard was given to seven hotels and nine restaurants in Addis Ababa , Amhara, Tigray, Oromia, Harari and the Southern Nations, Nationalities and Peoples states as well as the Dire Dawa administration during the reported period.
A Paris-based company has also received plot to construct a 250-bedroom hotel in Addis.
The tourism industry is highly linked with the development of hotels and other infrastructure facilities, he said, adding that the Commission has been offering training on hotel management, reception and other seven sectors.
The Commission has also designed a project aimed at preserving heritages with a loan provided by the World Bank.