Search
The Caterer

Time to leave guides behind

20 October 2005
Time to leave guides behind

Many of you will recall the shock waves that rippled through the industry in 1999 when the great Marco Pierre White and the equally huge Nico Ladenis handed back their stars to Michelin. Today I have taken a course of action that will no doubt cause a similar commotion in the culinary ranks. This morning, after a good breakfast, I wrote to the editors of all the national guides and informed them that I no longer wish to be considered for entry in their self-important tomes. As far as David Smolt is concerned, the senseless race for guidebook recognition is over, and already I feel a weight has been lifted.

Let me be clear about one thing - my actions have nothing to do with the fact that yet again we've been overlooked for inclusion in any of the 2006 publications. My decision has not been taken in a fit of pique at our omission, but rather after a clear-headed and rational assessment of the places that have been included ahead of us.

Take, for instance, the little pub 20 miles from here that's getting rave reviews. The new owners are great friends of mine and I love them all dearly. So you'll understand how much it hurts me to have to say this, but - as I'm often forced to tell my customers - their food is not great, the service is poor, and the whole thing is overpriced. But, inexplicably, the guides and reviewers seem to have fallen for it! I mean, what are we always told that the guides value more than anything else (besides properly folded napkins and regular crumbing-down)? The answer, of course, is consistency. Well, I haven't changed my menu for almost a decade now, so I ask you, is it possible to be more consistent than that?

We're not a busy restaurant, which gives me plenty of time to talk to the customers after service. Many is the convivial evening we'll spend running the rule over rival establishments with the special honesty that a couple of bottles of decent red can engender.
Frankly, the judgement of my customers is the only one that matters to me. Thanks to TV programmes like Saturday Kitchen, they're now far better informed about food, and can make up their own minds about where to eat - and if they're in any doubt, they can always ask me. Who needs a guidebook in 21st-century Britain?

David Smolt is senior chief executive chef at the six-bedroom Auberge du Montbazillac, just outside Chelmsford

Over to you

Is the era of the guidebook over?

Paul Cordle, PR manager, Michelin

"When you're living in London and are going to Scotland for the weekend, a TV show or cookery book can't tell you where to go for a good meal. If you only have one night to go out for dinner, would you want to risk choosing a bad place, or would you rather rely on a guidebook that could recommend a restaurant where you're guaranteed a good experience?"

Egon Ronay, food critic, London

"I very much believe guidebooks are needed. They're often the only publications that really have knowledgeable comments about the quality of food in restaurants. As with wine, attention needs to be drawn to what is good or bad about a meal, and unfortunately many foop columns in various publications don't actually say much about the quality of the food at all."

Jennifer Beales, vice-president of sales and marketing, Distinguished Hotels, London

"I don't think so. A lot of people really like guidebooks and even collect them. People enjoy looking at the pictures in the books and keep them for years. The internet may be a source of reference for some these days, but not everyone can look online, and guide books certainly have collectors' value."

Hamish Smith, co-owner Lanes restaurant, London

"Guides don't bring us significant business, but having two AA rosettes is a useful motivational tool. Because we're in the City, less than 1% of our guests drive us - which is the market the guides traditionally seek. Many of our customers appreciate our inclusion in the guides, and some new ones are influenced enough to try us."

The Caterer Breakfast Briefing Email

Start the working day with The Caterer’s free breakfast briefing email

Sign Up and manage your preferences below

Thank you

You have successfully signed up for the Caterer Breakfast Briefing Email and will hear from us soon!