There has been something playing on my mind for the last few weeks. It has been bugging me like you would not believe. I love this industry where I ply my trade. I am a proud chef. I have been a catering manager and head waiter. I have supervised and planned large scale events and private dinner parties. I love to serve. I love it when a guest says "thank you for a lovely evening/lunch/event" etc. To me, there are fewer better feelings professionally.
Recently in Ipswich, the Buttermarket shopping centre has been redeveloped. It will soon be home to a mega cinema, but we are currently being drip fed a rolling stream of branded restaurants. Coast to Coast, Cosy Club, Byron Burger, Wagamama and Prezzo are all open or opening soon, with more to follow. I love having the choice and I can see the appeal. But how this will effect the smaller independent eateries is a matter for another blog.
What I want to focus on here, is something that I have noticed on my visits to two of these venues within the new Ipswich unit. I want to know is this a national problem or an isolated observation?
Where has the art of service gone? Where are the waiters? Have they all been replaced by drones, reading from ipads and automated devices? The initiative has gone. The personal touch has vanished. The personality of the host is a distant memory.
I am sure that when the concept for the big branded restaurant was conceived by these group bosses, they had a vision that didn't include seeing guests waiting 20 minutes for a drink after arrival. Seeing orders being lost in the digi-sphere. Or staff dripping with sweat due to being over run with responsibilities.
Do you remember the Maitre D? Do you remember the host or the landlord of a venue. I've worked with a few greats in my time. The host or Maitre D would orchestrate service. They would ensure that every table was looked after. They would not necessarily visit each table, but would ensure that every table was looked after and cared for adequately. This is missing from these robotic, branded, high volume restaurants. They have got staff in and taken away their free will, their individuality and their truth. This has been replaced with a fear and automation which prevents them from using logic. There are only so many times I can hear the words "I'll get my supervisor...."
Show me someone with passion. Show me a host who wants me to have a great time. Show me a host who understands that I don't expect perfection, I just want to know that you are doing your best. It’s a burger not a massaged, beer fed, fillet of Japanese beef!!!
I don't want the cliché French waiter/ess fawning over my crap jokes. I just want my plate cleared at the end of a meal, my glass kept full, my bill to be correct and my order taken, when I'm ready.... Yes, a good waiter will know when I'm ready to order. It’s a skill.
I remember sitting in the shade of a café in Italy with my wife (I know this bit sounds very middle class, but hear me out) and as the sun arched around the square, it hit our table and the temperature soared. As I gently dabbed sweat away from my forehead. Two waiters swooped to my table. Cleared it, and reset it at another table in the shade. They even moved our shopping bags. This was an extreme example of service of the highest level. I, by no means expect that from any restaurant in a shopping centre in Ipswich....but imagine if you did.
Too many of these large branded venues are focussing on getting you in and sat at a table. Then will rely on our total Britishness to not want to make a fuss.
So to wrap this up. I feel we should expect realistic service from these bigger establishments. They are already doing away with professional chefs in exchange for microwave operating, plating by numbers style employees with no need for flare or creativity. That’s all at the back of house and this ideal is slowly filtering into the service section. I’m not saying this is happening everywhere. But it is happening. I love food service. I love it when it's "on point". It has not got to be Michelin star grade. It just needs to suit the scale of the venue.
Am I right?