- The Washington Times - Monday, March 23, 2009

MADRID (AP) - A Spanish restaurant grappling with hard economic times is wooing diners by letting them pay whatever they want for its daily special.

Barcelona restaurateur Eledino Garcia said Monday he introduced the honor system three weeks ago in his 32-seat bar and eatery to bring back loyal customers, many of whom lost their jobs as Spain’s unemployment rate soared to 13.9 percent over the past year.

And the idea is actually working: Garcia says his daily take is up.

After a midday meal, diners who opted for the euro10 ($13.56), three-course daily special get something other than a check.

“I give you an envelope, and you pay what you think it was worth, or whatever you can pay,” said Garcia, the 50-year-old owner of the small restaurant called Mireya.

Since Garcia took it over seven years ago, his homestyle food _ including bacalao (a traditional Spanish dish of salted cod) and fried calamari _ has attracted a loyal following among workers from surrounding neighborhoods.

But as Spain’s economic woes deepened of late, many of Mireya’s regular customers found themselves without work.

“As far as I am concerned, this is a solution, a way to help people,” Garcia told The Associated Press. “Like everyone, we’re suffering from the crisis. We have a regular clientele and we’re all losing money. This idea is a way of showing solidarity.”

Garcia says his trust in the public is paying off. Although he says he does not keep track of how much each person pays, no one seems to be taking advantage of him.

“People are better than we think,” Garcia said.

Garcia is not sure how long he will keep up with the new payment system, saying it depends how long the crisis and diners’ good will last.

“It’s a model for keeping a business running,” Garcia said. “We’re trying to lose as little as possible.”

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