Viewpoint: Would you enjoy eating at your own restaurant?

21 April 2016
Viewpoint: Would you enjoy eating at your own restaurant?

After encouraging hoteliers to see rooms from a guest's perspective, Philip Newman-Hall, hotel consultant and former managing director of Belmond Le Manoir aux Quat'Saisons, asks restaurateurs to do the same

While away on of the other side of the world, holidaying in Australia, I had the opportunity to sit as a guest at the table a lot and once again I have to ask the question: how often do we place ourselves in the seats of our bars and restaurants and see things from a guest's point of view?

As I am on my soapbox about lighting: two further points. Please give me enough light to see what I am actually eating. What is the point of great cooking and skilful service if I can't see what is on my plate? Second, a request to chefs. Please go and look at every plate of food that you serve under the lighting in your restaurant, both during the day and at night. A plate of food on a terracotta plate might look fantastic under the lights of the pass, but what does it actually look like when it is placed in front of the diner on the table on a dark and dismal February day, or in the subdued lighting of your very expensively designed restaurant? I suspect there is a reason plates have been predominately white since we stopped eating off wooden boards.

Wooden boards, of course, brings me on to plates and slates and glass for serving on. Has anyone really ever sat down and asked the guests if they like eating off a slate or a wooden board where there is no rim, which means any sauce sails to the side, especially when there is a wobbly table? Have the kitchen and restaurant team actually sat down and eaten every dish off the plate or bowl that they are going to serve with the cutlery that a guest will use? Bowls are fantastic for bowl food, but try and eat out of a bowl with a knife and fork and you end up with cutlery positioned at 90 degrees, trying to get the last remnants.

Bread is another bugbear. Why can I no longer keep my bread to mop up my sauce? Leave my bread alone! Some restaurants have the audacity to charge extra for it, so the least they can do is allow diners to eat it when they want to. Guests shouldn't be interrupted with: "Have you finished with your bread? Can I take your bread plate away?"

As a guest, I have to wonder where the duck/artichoke/jus-type menu came from? It means that you have to ask how every single dish is prepared. The team may have great pleasure in telling you about every nuance on your plate, but this wastes their time and impinges on my dining experience. Please, please give some form of description as to what is included and how it is cooked and think about it from the guests' point of view.

Despite all I've said, not all is negative. One initiative that was impressive in Australia was a trend towards ordering main courses after the diner has finished their starter. It means guests are able to assess how full they are and have the option to share some main courses rather than ordering for all. The owners of a restaurant discussed it with us and explained that people tend to order just as much food but felt better about it as they did not feel harassed at the start of the meal. I know it would not work in all restaurants, but what a great way of making the guest feel as though they don't have to initially spend a lot of money.

So, put yourselves in your guests' place. How would you like to be treated, and how do you wish to feel when you are eating out? It's not rocket science, it's hospitality!

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