Wednesday, 21 August 2013

The customer is always right – unless, that is, the chef disagrees... Fuller's Tenants Extra July 2013

The customer is always right – unless, that is, the chef disagrees. I was reminded of this on a recent Saturday lunchtime visit to a smartish gastropub.

The menu went into detail about the quality and local provenance of the steaks on offer, which is obviously sound practice and helps customers appreciate the commitment that goes into serving good food.

However, the description then went a bit further. It advised customers, rather patronisingly in my view, that because of the quality of the beef “we recommend that steaks are ordered medium-rare, and certainly no more than medium.”

Since I’m the one paying for the steak, my instinct was to say that if I want it cremated before serving, that’s how I’ll have it, but since my family have threatened to disown me if I ever embarrass them again while eating out, I kept quiet. In fact, like most of us ‘medium’ is my default setting for ordering a steak anyway, so that’s how I asked for it.

Sadly, the steak that emerged from the kitchen a few minute later wasn’t even medium-rare. It was very rare, to the extent that just inserting a fork into the steak caused a trickle of blood to start running towards my triple-cooked chips.

I know there are ‘foodies’ who insist that the only way to eat a steak is to have it lightly seared on either side, and I’m not much of a squeamish eater, but I do like my steak to be cooked at least to the extent that it doesn’t require a bandage.  

While the matter was addressed, I was left with the definite impression that in the view of the kitchen, the problem lay in my inability to appreciate their culinary skills, rather than their unwillingness to prepare food the way the customer wants it.

It reminded me of an occasion some years ago when the Pub Food Awards were held at the Savoy, and I was negotiating the menu with the French head chef. We decided beef would be the main course, and I suggested it should be served medium. He asked me: “Is that British medium or French medium?”

My response was that since ‘French medium’ refers to an animal with a mild suntan running around the farmyard, we’d go with British. That’s how the meat was served on the night, and if the Savoy can manage it, so can a pub.

The latest research by CGA shows that consumers are generally going out less often, but when they do, they are more willing to ‘treat’ themselves.  A steak is usually the most  expensive item on the menu, and anyone ordering one will expect to have it ‘their’ way – and if they do, they’ll go away happy and will be back another time. 

This Kitchen Porter column appears in the July 2013 issue of Fuller's Tenant's Extra.

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