On Friday I had the pleasure of taking lunch with several friends, contemporaries and lecturers from the Oxford School of Hospitality Management, at The Manor in Clapham. This restaurant is run by ex-Brookes student Dan Joines, a man himself who has a highly impressive track record already, in the 5 years since leaving university. Lunch was hosted by Tracey Macleod, restaurant critic of The Independent, and well-known TV personality from the likes of Masterchef and other shows.
Aside from the lunch itself- (which by the way was absolutely outstanding and couldn’t come more highly recommended ), the insights into the industry from a renowned restaurant critic such as Tracey was fascinating, and really got me thinking. Working currently in a restaurant where we seem to have reviewers/bloggers/journalists in every day/week, we have had a number of very positive reviews, with the likes of Giles Coren, Jay Rayner and Tom Parker-Bowles all writing hugely positive stuff, which of course is gratifying to see.
The world of restaurant criticism is one that is fascinating- how influential are these people? What do readers think and does it affect their dining out choices? One guest of mine this week seemed to base their entire meal with us on one recent national review, and decided to only order what this reviewer had had! I understand if a writer mentions one particular signature or typical dish and to have that, but doesn’t it detract from the personal experience of dining out when all your choices are dictated by somebody else? I personally believe that food and dining out is an entirely personal experience and that although reviewers and critics rightly have influence, dining choices should be down to the individual.
The other side of the argument is of course from the view of the restaurants themselves. There’s no doubt that a positive review can be hugely benefical to a restaurant, new or old, as people want to experience something special, but how about negative reviews? Can they truly distract people from visiting somewhere? From my point of view one or two negative reviews in a national paper or online isn’t going to put me off going to dine somewhere, if it is a restaurant that I had always intended on visiting. An interesting line that Tracey Macleod said on Friday – “Our job is to sell newspapers, not restaurants”. A very fair point. It is after all a restaurant’s job to sell themselves!
I went to a fairly new opening at the start of the year, which had had two of the major critics not exactly rating it, but I visited and found my meal utterly enjoyable and tasty. What does this prove? Whether the critics liked it or not, and whether I liked it or not is surely irrelevant- food and drink, as with everything, is completely objective. Not every restaurant is for everybody, and not every restaurant wants to be- that is maybe why, according to TripAdvisor, there are 18,222 restaurants in London alone. What is one person’s ideal of culinary paradise, might be another’s food hell!
So what does all this mean? Well restaurant critics are influential, people read their articles, watch them on TV, listen to their podcasts etc, and find their insights useful. Which is ultimately what they are there for. One feature will not make a restaurant, nor will it really break one. So I would suggest that as consumers we continue to read and follow reviews, as businesses we continue to encourage them, but it is down to the restaurants to provide great food, drink and great service, and to the customers to continue to embrace the personal and subjective nature of dining-out.
An article I read the other day inspired this latest blog post- the multitude of things that go through one’s mind during a restaurant service and how it’s (supposedly) organised!
12:00. The restaurant is open, staff briefed, everything ready to go. How many guests on the books? 50, okay great. Quick bite to eat downstairs, come back up, oh look Table 1 is in. Let’s make sure they’re first out as well. “Good afternoon, welcome, how are you”? Oh you’ve got a suit and tie on, does that mean you’re here on business or avoiding it? Let’s see later on. Water and drink on the table. New table has arrived, 4 of them on Table 2. Suits again. Looks like they’re in a hurry. Suits me. Drink gents? Oh not drinking today. Fine, menus down then. New table 3, 2 ladies. They look difficult. Good morning. Water please. Okay, one of these. Table 1 is ready to order. Starters, mains, sides. Good start. They’re relaxing a bit now. Might be the glass of wine in their hands. New table on T4- a couple? Potentially. The ladies have a question. One of them is dairy free. Yes Madam we have dairy free options but they’re not listed as such, what would you like?. Oh you don’t like mushrooms either? Let me check with Chef for you. Downstairs; dairy free with no mushrooms is fine. Good. Back upstairs. There’s another table, T5. Welcome, water. Back to Madam Dairy Free. You’re fine with that option? Fantastic. They want more time to order. Back to the second load of suits, they’re ready. 4 mains, done. First table have their starters. Ladies on T3 want to order, one no dairy one normal. Two courses on the way. First table finished their starters. Maybe they’re in a rush? Mains away. The 4 gents from T2 are ordering. Starter, middle and main. Okay, maybe they’re not in so much of a rush? Got that one wrong.
Right where are we- first table have main courses; second table waiting for starters; third table probably ready to order; fourth table have a glass of wine but maybe they want to order; fifth table..? Second table starters are here. Very good. Ladies want to order- two courses, one dairy free. Ok. T4 order has been taken, very good. Fifth table are ready. Second table have finished. I’ll clear in a minute. T5 order. T2 cleared. First table still eating. T3, the ladies, starters have arrived. Chef is fast today. First table now done- cleared, dessert menus. Fourth table food has arrived. Ah the Owner is in the building. “Good Morning Sir!”. Back to the floor. Ladies starters are ready to clear. First table finished main courses. Fifth table starters arrived. Ladies’ starters are cleared from T3. Second table middle courses are on the table. Oh there’s something missing? No they just want the salt. They’ve not even tasted it yet, but yes of course sir, here you are. Anyway. First table order coffees, no dessert, with the bill. First in, first out, that went to plan. Third table main courses are on the table. It’s come with cheese. Why has it come with cheese?! Downstairs to the kitchen. One more coming up. Upstairs- sorry Madam, just a couple of minutes. Fourth table cleared. Fifth table cleared. Madam’s food has arrived. Apologies Madam, please enjoy. First table have paid- “thank you gents!”. Second table finished their middle courses. Tables 4 and 5 have main courses. Check on the ladies on T3. Everything is perfect for them. Fantastic! Second table main courses are served. T4 have raced through theirs and are ready to clear. Dessert? Don’t think they’re a couple actually. Too awkward. They’re having dessert though. Fifth table taking more time over their food. Fair enough. Ladies are finished. What dairy free desserts do you have? Have some lovely sorbet Madam. Done. Second table finished main courses. No desserts but a drink in the bar. Let me find a nice table for you gents. Fifth table have finished mains but no room for dessert.That’s a shame. Just the bill? Certainly sir. Fourth table desserts are done and would like coffees. A decaf soya macchiato for Madam and a black Americano for Sir. Petit fours served. Ladies from the third table have finished and are ready to go. “Lovely, we’ll be back!” I hope so ladies. Bill on table four.
Restaurant is empty again.
4:00. What next? We go again for dinner.
I am a very proud alumnus of the Oxford School of Hospitality Management, at Oxford Brookes University, a degree that gave me a plethora of opportunities to explore the hospitality industry at university, and that set me up for my career now.
The Bacchus Alumni Awards at the St Pancras Renaissance Hotel in London is an event that celebrates the success of the School and it’s graduates and students, and I am delighted to be attending on April 11th this year.
The first post of what I hope will be an interesting, entertaining and successful blog!
I work in restaurants/hospitality, I love food, drink and wine and when I’m not at work I’m enjoying these myself. I intend for this blog to be a collection of thoughts, ideas and observations about hospitality, restaurants, food and drink, but to be honest I’m going to see how it goes and where it takes me!
Watch this space…