Ethiopia's service industry plays catch-up: restaurateurs in Addis Ababa are trying to tackle the city's reputation for poor service as it emerges as an economic and political hub.

Author:Jeffrey, James
Position:CULTURE: Travel

Ethiopia's changing economic landscape has much going for it but when it comes to eating out there's a common complaint among visitors and locals alike: service is terrible.

The country's service industry especially aimed at foreigners--is relatively new. It was not until the end of the communist regime--the Derg--in 1991 that a more free market-orientated, tourist-friendly economy emerged.

Nowadays that economy is in full swing, attracting business travellers and tourists who want to dine out in comfort. But the service industry is still playing catch up--and often failing.

"The country could be doing much better, but we're not deterred by the current context," says Matthews Teshome, co-owner of Sishu restaurant, who spent 25 years in the US before returning to his homeland. "We are capable of doing what they do in America so well."

At its founding in 2012, Teshome and co-owner Sishu Deneke--after whom the restaurant is named--decided to counter the narrative of Ethiopia's supposedly dreadful service. They wanted to build an affordable family-friendly business providing Western-standard service.

They also recognised how many service sector staff earn barely enough to live on. Hence Sishu's employees are paid a living wage and a share of each month's revenue if it exceeds a set goal.

Ultimately Sishu wants to demonstrate to other Ethiopian businesses the rewards--and profits--of delivering quality service while caring about your employees.

"We're not a charity, this is good for business, while also the right thing to do," Teshome says.

"The problem is people open restaurants but don't know about doing things properly," says Iside Reale, owner of Italian restaurant Grani di Pepe. "Often they start well, but then go downhill--there's no consistency." Reale spent 35 years working restaurants in Europe before coming to Addis Ababa. She notes how Ethiopia has no established system for hiring waiting staff, and how many staff need constant supervision.

A group of four female Italian professionals sitting around a table for lunch in Grani di Pepe's garden had plenty of gripes about service in Addis Ababa.

"There's a very long way to go," Maria-Teresa says. "Nothing seems to be improving. They can throw forks at me and I'll catch them, I can tolerate that, but the food just isn't good enough." Her friend Flaminga adds: "You have to Be very patient with staff."

On the up side, they agree that some places, like Grani di Pepe, can get it right, and...

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