We “profess” our skills to the world through our work, but opening the doors to the public is more than producing some tasty, pretty-looking food for an Instagram moment.
Early on, there were many days where I could not see a career in the hospitality industry. Basically I was too proud. And I mean proud in an “I am too good to be mopping the floor” sort of way, which is not really a useful sort of pride.
But then the hypocrisy of my nature!
Whenever I had a day off from the kitchen as a young trainee chef, I was cooking for some friends or family, loving it, being a host, eating dinner with friends at home with wine and lots of time to chat and maybe even dancing afterwards. That was fun and really rewarding.
So it didn’t come together for me as a profession until I started to value the idea of food as bringing people ‘together’, rather than food as art, or food as an expression of ‘me’ (perhaps a weird sort of ‘food as art’ permutation). Food can be very artistic and ‘creative’, but this is not where the power lies for me.
Firstly food sustains and gives us life. That is not insignificant, and when we eat together with others, and share the appreciation of the table, that sense of sustenance is multiplied. Especially if the conversation is good! So the ‘art’ for me with food is creating a space for this shared appreciation to happen.
But then there is a significant ‘art’ we can bring to eating, right? Jane and I were sitting in a beautiful well-known restaurant last night. At one point we looked around the room and there was one table of three all glued to their phones. They looked really out of place, as everyone else was chatting at the different tables and the vibe was great. Now, I do not want to be too Nazi about phone use in public. I get that it is a part of life, what with attending babysitter calls etc., but I think it can also be a very big distraction from being ‘present’ for your ‘present’ company, no? :)
I know a local eatery that has a patronage with real attachment to their mobiles. It makes for a less than interesting vibe in the room when 80 percent of the customers are looking at a small screen. I love to play games with customers who express deep attachment to their phones and do not talk to anyone in the room. My favourite is to discreetly take the phone out of their hands, and say I will bring it back soon. That can really surprise some! One time I told a man that if he stayed on his phone, I would get him to work while I talked to his beautiful wife. Fortunately, that was sufficient for the man to correct. In another incident I suggested that a lady might put away her phone as her partner really did have interesting and funny things to share. A regular at another table was in earshot and laughed involuntarily. The two women then proceeded to have a great chat. A bistro can be a social place!
And if we are dining out, what about how we approach the establishment? On a tight rope here, commenting about client behaviour to you, I know, but…
… it is interesting that in our modern world of online review platforms (curious that some of those sites do not give the venue an opportunity to respond), anyone can critique the venue, and “the customer is always right” - but are they? Although we know the establishment is a commercial operation, does that forego any opportunity for the patron to show regard? If we want to breed a society of narcissists, then I think it’s a great approach. As a friend of mine put it, the relationship between venue and patron is like any other, and it works so much better with mutual respect.
If you are going to do it, do it well, and eating out is no exception! Let’s make it a love-in all round! We have a customer I shall call John, and every time he comes in to eat, I have to say I am happier to call myself a restaurateur. His appreciation and joy of eating out knows no bounds, and he lets all the staff know it. And here is a clue: he’s a Pom! Not generally regarded for their joy of cuisine - more often seen as great whingers. We love you too, “John”!
Instead of feeling too proud to wash the floor, I can now feel proud that we all had a good party.
Have a great week and leave comments below if you have something to say.