A couple of weeks ago my family and I went to the opening of a restaurant in Romford town centre called Outback Steakhouse. It's an Australian theme restaurant with its origins in the USA.
The grand opening was put on in conjunction with our local St Francis Hospice. Tickets were £20, with all proceeds going to the hospice. I must admit I never read the small print too carefully, but I expected some kind of buffet and that we would buy our own drinks. The evening was a very pleasant surprise.
The £20 that the 200 to 250 guests paid all went to the hospice, plus the proceeds from an auction and a raffle. I understood that £10,000 was raised that evening.
We checked in at the front desk and were given one of those vibrating and flashing gadgets that tell you when your table is ready.
All the food and drink was complimentary, and all staff donated their services free of charge, with the evening being used as a training session. There were experienced waiting staff from America on hand to train the trainees, and from a customer and PR perspective, the evening and the launch of this new venture were very impressive.
The portions are very American (large), with the feature starter being a Blooming Onion. This is a large Spanish-type onion cut so it flowers, but stays together. It is then battered and deep-fried and served with a mayonnaise and horseradish dip. Absolutely delicious, but don't try to eat one on your own, take at least two or three friends.
Being in the trade, I made a point of talking to the owner, Mike Hickes, before we left that evening. He has spent the last few months in America learning the Outback system, while his wife stayed here and worked in a TGI Friday's, so she would have a good understanding of the business.
They have obviously made a very large investment and massive commitment to the success of this venture, so naturally you hope it will be successful for them.
There were a number of local dignitaries at the launch, including the mayor of Havering and the MP for Romford. There was also a guy that looked like Crocodile Dundee. G'day mates.
RICHARD WARE is catering and premises services manager at the London Borough of Havering
Next diary from Richard Ware:25 October