The chef's blog
Thoughts, anecdotes and personal experiences with our most important asset, the customer
As important preamble, I must say that customers are our most important asset and the bottom line is that they pay the bills, thus giving us the financial resources to pay our salaries and keep the business running.
I truly believe in that, however, on the common knowledge that the "Customer is always right" I do have my own personal interpretation, which I would like to share with you readers, not to denigrate our most important asset, that would be suicidal, but to open a hopefully useful discussion on common misunderstanding we hoteliers, do have with our clients.
The relationship between "we", the guys working in the hospitality business as a whole and "you", the customer, in its infinite variety, it's complex, terribly complex. We don't think all at the same way as much as the customers themselves are not all the same. Of course, we all strive to serve all the customers the same way, but they relate with us, and consequently we relate with them in different ways.
To manage this complexity, there are "conventions", some are practical (did you notice the knife is alway on the right of the plate and with the blade towards it? That's because most of the people take the knife with their right hand and from the right direction, so to have it ready to cut your bite, that's it...), some other are dictated by local customs and many are just universal (nowhere in the world, spitting on the floor is a nice gesture, isn't it?).
I'm not going for a complete "Bon Ton" guide in this pages, I'll mostly write about those things that nowadays are becoming more and more an issue for us, things that mostly didn't exist at the time "Bon Ton" was invented. In order to do so, I'll use the logical succession of all the interaction between "Us" and "You" as they happen.
How did you get here?
Two are the cases: you know the restaurant or you don't know it...
You may know it because you've been here before, or you saw an advertising somewhere or you made a research on the thousands of resources available.
Unless you come to my restaurant quite often, and in that case most likely you have some sort of relationship with our staff and you are constantly updated on our products, you should gather information about the venue before you come, before you book.
Simple logic, uh? A Lapalissade, uh?
Then, why I still receive groups of vegans in my steakhouse?
And not just one time, it happens frequently... They book, they show up, and when they arrive we have to explain them that we have very limited vegan choices, we're a steakhouse, we cater for people who want a big chunk of undercooked red meat as the main feature of their dinner.
You made the choice to be vegan, I respect that, really, I even admire the sacrifices you endure to adhere to your philosophy and choice of life, what I ask is you to respect my choices as well, nothing more.
We can't cater for everyone, there are too many philosophical or religious takes on food, a part vegan, there's Kosher, Halal and then the vegetarianism (a wide category with many different interpretations), raw foodism, fruitarians and so on, we can't have separate kitchens for any of them!
Please check what we sell in our shop, it might not be the product you're looking for, is that simple.
Make sure the informations you gather are updated, don't rely on internet, better to give us a call and ask. It is in our interest to sell our product only to people who can appreciate it, and it is in your interest to make sure you get the right product for your money.
Tell us about your dietary requirements, not all the kitchens can accomodate all of them. As an example, I work in Thailand, we have peanuts and peanut oil everywhere. If you have a severe allergy to peanuts, I can't guarantee against contamination, I simply cannot. It's a risk and you only know what's the risk, you have to tell us, we can't guess it!
Check if our prices fit in your pocket. A higher price does not mean higher profit, higher quality products are generally more expensive, a more personalized, elegant service is more expensive, location, and many other factors contribute in the cost and consequently the price of your meal.
If you cannot afford a particular restaurant, there's no shame in it and plenty of other venues where you can find very good food for much less money
There is no purpose to go in an expensive fine dining restaurant and eat just a salad because that's your budget. Is not good for you, it's not good for us. At the same time, there is no purpose to go in a cheap eatery and expect to be served like a king. In the end, you get what you pay for, as in any other business.
Last but not least, ask if there's any dressing code, it's important. In some establishment you can go in flip-flop, swimwear and trunk, in some other might be required to dress in suit and necktie. Before you book or show up, call us and ask!
The booking process
This is not a matter of Bon Ton, it's not about manners, it's actually simple business logic, simple at straight math level.
When you book a table, we do have to block it, we can't sell it to anyone anymore. When we look at our bookings, before service, we take a number of decisions. Waiters spend their time and resources to prepare the table, which obviously involves costs, but that's a small cost, merely labour.
In the kitchen, if I know I have 40 people booked, I'll prepare my "Mise En Place" to be able to serve food for 40 people, timely and consistently. That's a cost, it involves having ready at hand a certain amount of food, some of which can't be reused or recycled another day. The damage is double, not only we'll waste the mise en place, but if you don't show up, we'll also have an empty table that doesn't generate any revenue.
As simple as it looks, a large amount of people still do it, some even book the same event in three of four restaurants and only when all the party gathers, they decide where to go, extending the damage to multiple restaurant...
To defend our business, and I believe we have the right to do it, we implement policies. Some restaurant, in a very good market position, would may ask for a deposit, so if you don't show up, at least they cover their costs, some other will keep the table available for just some time, if you're late or don't show up, after half an hour or so, they'll make the table available for other walking in or last minute booking customers.
So, please book your table if you're really sure you'll come, if you're late or you changed idea, give us a call, tell us, so we can give the table to someone else. If you're required to pay a deposit, don't be upset, there's nothing personal, we're just trying to get paid for our job...
As I wrote in the preamble, we do strive to serve all our customers with the very same attention, however, it's in the human nature to feel sympathy for some, and perhaps a little less for some other, to say the least.
No need to play like a clown or to give generous tips (which are obviously always welcome), most likely a smile and polite manners will work much better. As I wrote, this is not a Bon Ton guide, but some simple suggestion can do the trick:
Order your meal
It's your meal, and you have the right to have it the way you like, but it still from our kitchen your meal is coming from... A kitchen, any kitchen has its limitations. Sometime is the equipment, more often is the number of people that work in it. Despite our best efforts, not all requests can be accommodated.
For who's not familiar with this particular business, need to be said that the kitchen is a particularly stressing environment. We chef, need to be quick, extremely precise and consistent, preparing or supervising the preparation of dozens of different things at the same time and with perfect timing, there's a lot of concentration and stress involved.
To a certain extent, we are prepared to receive "strange" requests and in general we're ready, to the same extent, to accomodate them.
But there are things we can't do.
Some are simply impossible, you can't have your risotto in five minutes. We do not serve pre-cooked rice or pasta, it's a precise choice of quality, we value the quality more than time. We're not fast food, it is clear in every little detail of our restaurant. The waiter knows and he will tell you, you have to wait 20 minutes and that's something we can't negotiate. It's the time required for the risotto to come with the quality we want and perhaps, you want as well.
We can't cook your Chateaubriand in three different cooking grade, the physics involved makes it impossible, so when the waiter suggests to take three filet mignon instead, it's not to rip you off, but it's to accomodate your request...
Other request should not be accommodated in your own interest. If you order a very well done strip-loin, it is our duty to tell you that overcooking certain particular cuts of meat or from some kind of breed, it will produce a result far from acceptable, and it's our duty to make it clear. Complaining that the meat is tough, after, it's not honest, you have been warned before...
There are other requests that depend mostly on the kind of restaurant and personality of the chef. In some restaurant, they simply don't care, whatever you order, as far as you pay for it, you deserve it. Some other restaurants, more focused on quality, might have stricter policies. Some restaurant do not give food for take away, as they know perfectly that food, after standing even just few minutes in a box, won't be as good as it would be there at the table and they simply don't want to compromise the quality and/or reputation. Some chef will refuse to add certain ingredients to you dish because it simply goes against his secular traditions, such as asking for ketchup on the pizza in Italy, something which is absolutely normal in other parts of the world. Perhaps, if nothing in the menu fits with your palate, or you want everything exactly as you would prepare yourself, you're in the wrong shop...
You're now at the end go your meal and time comes to pay your bill. It is at this time that many unpleasantries happen. Despite I've been in this business well over 30 years, I still don't understand why we still have to discuss about the amount of the bill.... Why? You order that stuff, the prices are all there in the menu, it's simple math... Of course sometime argument start might be triggered by a mistake, we're human after all, but arguing on the price of a bottle of imported mineral water it's a waste of time. It's imported and the custom duties make the price, it's not even money that goes into our pocket, so why arguing? In general, why arguing for the prices of our menu? You could have checked before, they're all on the menu, you could have checked even before you came, it's everything on our website as well, could have give us a call, so why you came, eat like there's no tomorrow and then complain for the bill? Why you ask for a discount?
You didn't like the food, uh? And you arrive at the end of the meal, emptied plates to realize it, uh? If you don't like something, send it back. It is an almost universal rule, if you send back the plate untouched or with just some bite missing, we won't charge for it. We are well aware that mostly it's a matter of taste or product knowledge, we won't argue about that and you won't have to pay for it, but if you eat it, then you have to pay for it. Think about it, if you buy 1 kg of potatoes and you pay for it at the cashier, then when you go home, you cook them, you eat them, you don't like them, can you go to the market again and have a refund?? No! Why you try in my restaurant??
And at least for me, threatening a bad review, and I personally have been threatened like that for just a discount, won't change my stance, no way! I'm working for passion and for salary too...
Executive Chef with over thirty years of field experience, passionate in the culinary world at 360º