Last weekend was my daughters 8th birthday and I did what most parents do and allowed her to choose what she would like to eat or where to go for a meal. We live in a suburb of a large city so lots to choose from, small independents and various chains, most of my family love Italian food and she chose a restaurant within walking distance of our house.
The restaurant is one of 18 in a chain with the menu basically the same throughout the business across the UK. This particular restaurant is in a suburb of a city, we used to call this a ‘chimney pot’ restaurant, it’s surrounded by residential housing so its customer demographic are families and young professionals.
This particular group of restaurants is well established and has been operating for a number of years. I have been to many of their restaurants but I feel that something is changing. I will say this as a customer and not as a chef, the price is going up and the quality is going down. Yes I know that food prices increase and menu prices have to reflect that but why do you not get the quality? On this particular night I had a pasta Arrabbiata and, as a customer, I expected pasta cooked Al Dente, a tomato-based sauce that coats the pasta, with a little spice and the offer of fresh parmesan. Instead, the pasta was overcooked and falling to pieces, the sauce had no flavour, no seasoning and was very thin. The rest of the food for our table was similar to that, it didn’t offer any real value for money.
Move forward a week and it’s my wife’s birthday ( yes, a very busy and expensive time for me!) and again we go out into the centre of Manchester. This time to another small chain with 8 in the group, at 5pm this place was packed and we had to wait. That’s not a problem, we couldn’t book as they only take bookings for over six on a Saturday night.
We were seated after about 30 mins as we had been missed off the system! This happens but it’s how they resolved it that was clever. For those of you who have children, you will know they have always have something to moan about, our waiter was so on the ball that not only did he bring us complimentary drinks but he took the children’s order and had them eating within 10 minutes. Very clever and he totally avoided a problem by getting us all relaxed. So to the food, we ordered mainly small plates and I have to say all where on point. The same as the last time, great flavour and enjoyable. We had a great time, not for the fact we got a free drink and dessert but the fact that the business is run well from food to service. The team are well trained, fully engaged at all times. Totally value for money.
Both dining experiences cost about the same.
Customers who dine out do one of two things, they accept the food as it is, don’t complain and tell their friends or send it back. I send it back (the second pasta was still not correct) If we make a mistake, put it right in my mind. Unless they are under pressure to make a margin so in that case, send out poor food and hope you get away with it. That is the mind-set of some restaurants and is simply not right.
If we pay for food we expect it to be of a good quality, If a chef works in an Italian restaurant I would expect them to be able to cook pasta or, make a basic tomato based sauce every time. Too many restaurants are trying to improve their GP by lowering their food quality, lowering their standards, saying they are happy with serving food that is not great to make more money.
This works in the short term, then customers get wise, people talk about experiences and end up spending their cash somewhere else. Customer loyalty is driven by quality and customer service not a need to make a higher GP. So why risk your brand?
Do it right and customers will love it and keep coming back. If not your restaurant becomes quieter and you find yourself saying “its half term, everyone is away” , “it’s just after Christmas, people have no money”. When in your heart you know you’re just not offering value for money. Change before it’s too late!
Kindly contributed by Steve Midgley Consulting Development Chef, 30 years experience in fine dinning, creating fantastic experiences at Michelin star restaurants.