Friday, 7 September 2012

How long is a reasonable time to wait for a meal? Fuller's Tenants Extra September 2012

How long is a reasonable time to wait for a meal? I’ve got a pretty good idea of how long it takes to cook a medium steak or deep fry a battered fish fillet, but knowing that doesn’t tell you how far down the service list you are in a busy pub. In my experience, asking the question tends to instil a look of fear in waiting staff, and barely concealed contempt from the chef.

The waiter’s fear is usually generated by the fact that it requires asking for a commitment from the kitchen, something that could well result in the demonstration of an imaginative new application for a professional food blender. The chef’s gripe is that he is an artist, and no one kept popping their head round the door of the Sistine Chapel to ask Michelangelo how much longer it would be.

I had cause to think about the issue myself recently. Our party of six eating was served drinks, our orders taken, and then it all went quiet. It was a biggish pub, but I reckon it took the member of staff far more time to plot a course that kept her well away from our table than it would have done to wander past, smile and say “sorry, the kitchen’s a bit busy, can I get you any more drinks?”

Research by Market Force Europe, which mystery visits pubs and restaurants, shows that customers are twice as likely to recommend a venue because of the service than because of the food and drink.  When asked to rate what is most important in a restaurant:

·         35% of people said service, compared to just 18% citing price

·         45% said the biggest frustration was slow service

·         31% said ay that staff showing a lack of interest makes them feel dissatisfied with their experience
It took about 50 minutes for our six meals to arrive, during which time we were left entirely alone by the pub’s staff.  There was no problem with the food – in fact, it was excellent. However, the wait is the lasting memory everyone took away from the meal.   

The company was good, but the conversation would have been rendered even more sparkling by a second round of drinks or the chance to order our first bottle of wine before the meal arrived. Those are simply lost sales – which no pub can afford.
Communication, between the kitchen and front-of-house, and from front-of-house to customers, is at the heart of good customer service, and should be built into procedures. If the kitchen team  update waiting staff on service times as a matter of course,  this can be passed onto customers through regular checks.  How long is a reasonable time to wait for a meal?  You tell me. Please.

This 'Kitchen Porter' column appears in the September 2012 issue of fuller's Tenants Extra              

Authenticity isn’t necessarily my strong suit when it comes to selecting a night out overseas - Inapub, September 2012

Authenticity isn’t necessarily my strong suit when it comes to selecting a night out overseas - I’ve drunk Guinness in Irish bars in Barcelona, and eaten Tapas in Dublin. So it was perhaps inevitable that I found myself standing in the Union Jack British Pub in the French town of Le Mans not so long ago.

In my defence, I’d sought out a bar to watch Andy Murray play in the Wimbledon men’s final, but since the commentary was in suitably unimpressed French, I don’t think I experienced the same level of excitement as I might have at home.

The bar itself was authentically British enough, to the extent that none of the beer was served in the correct branded glass and all the tables wobbled. However, they let us down on one crucial aspect. When we tried to order food, the barman simply pointed to the bistro opposite.

Given that I’ve rarely been in a French bar that couldn’t rustle up a baguette and a bowl of frites, it was an affront to my sense of national pride that the Gallic stereotype of a British pub is a venue that doesn’t sell food.

Of course, I didn’t make a fuss. But if I had, I would have quoted the findings of the latest QuickBite survey from Horizons’ latest QuickBite survey, which found that British adults are going out a bit more often than they have done in the past two years, and that pub restaurants are the top choice, favoured  by 19 per cent of consumers.

Marston’s is among the operators showing faith in the format, having recently confirmed plans for 25 new-build pub restaurants in the current financial year.

However, pubs also have to fight hard for spend in the managed market, with the Quickbite figures showing average spend per head down from £15.80 in January to £13.28 in June. This is being driven both by lower menu costs as managed operators drop prices to drive bums on seats, as well as a tendency to cut back on the extras, such as ordering wine by the glass instead of the bottle.

There was an interesting epilogue to my French misadventure. When our party of 10 adjourned to the recommended bistro, they managed to get almost every order wrong.  It doesn’t get much more British than that.

On the menu this month: In the most interesting Anglo French collaboration since Concorde, Taylor Walker pubs have added a Croque Monsieur to their sandwich menu. Behind the French name, the ingredients for the classic toastie couldn’t be more British - Wiltshire ham, melted Welsh rarebit and mature cheddar. Vive le difference?
This 'Pub Food with Porter' column appeasr in the September 2012 issue of Inapub.