Not having to do the dishes ranks as one reason people go out to a restaurant for dinner instead of cooking at home. However, in Catalonia, Spain, diners are finishing their desserts, tying on an apron, and heading to the kitchen sink.


They are grateful recipients of a program concocted by restaurant La Trobada and the local city council, both of which recognized that the weak Spanish economy means that few residents can afford to patronize the local restaurants anymore. Instead of paying for a meal, these “time customers” give an hour in the kitchen where they scrub plates and tidy up.

The program has become, in Spain, a creative and positive way to deal with one of the worst depressions in recent memory. About 6.2 million Spaniards are estimated to be unemployed, with half of them in that status for more than a year.

Thus far, restaurant manager Xavier Casas says about half of their customers are doing work time instead of paying with pesos. About 15,000 hours of voluntary work time will be generated in this first year.

The work-exchange scheme has garnered national, and international, attention, with articles and television spots using the program as an example of a humane response to the economic despair. The program was concocted in collaboration with the Terrassa city council and 30 local charities, with the aim of keeping up people’s self-esteem, supporting local businesses, and providing a place for social connection.

Casas explains how his restaurant takes a modern twist on the soup kitchens of the past.

“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 Casas.

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