You must have read this story in the press recently about the the couple who have been enjoying an extended extravaganza of fine wines and food at a variety of London's more swanky restaurants,then improprietly doing a runner prior to the bill being presented.
I was struck by the reaction to this story.The couple have been viewed by many as Bonnie and Clyde type characters giving the restaurant owners a run for their money.
There also seems to be a reluctance to view their actions as theft.Imagine strolling nonchalantly into your local butchers and swiping a couple of fillet steaks from behind the counter then making off without paying..
Yet, if a restaurateur buys them,then adds value to them by cooking and serving them to you in pleasant surroundings, dodging payment becomes a lesser crime?I just don't get that.
Making a food business pay isn't easy.There are lots of studies and varying statistics but most approximate that any new restaurant has far more chance of failure than success,two out of three new restaurants will have closed within two years of opening.Most don't make a profit within the first two years.
You may think the main reason for failure would be a poor standard of food being served.Not so, the main reason for failure is simply the inability of the business to make a profit.There are lots of talented chefs, but talented chefs who are also good businessmen are few and far between.
Serving inferior fare can in fact be a benefit to the success of your business.For a start overheads in this type of business are significantly lower.
High end restaurants are notoriously difficult to make profitable.For a start there's the expensive high quality raw ingredients,much more costly than buying frozen crap.Then there's the staffing,more skilled staff/higher ratio of staff to customers to provide the level of service expected.Then the associated expected add ons such as linen napkins(maybe a clean one between courses?at £1 a pop to launder?),expensive toiletries in the bathroom(many of which will be lifted)etc etc.
Then there's the real killers-the variables,all of which have to be costed into the price of the meals.
Wastage: fresh food (unlike frozen) has a shelf life.(Chef plays a game, its called Fortune Favours the Brave,its all about predicting what to order and keeping wastage to a minimum,but not running out of any items.. its a clever balancing act,more about that at a later date...)
Footfall:regardless of level of trade, the business still has to be staffed/staff still have to be paid.
Given only a couple of quiet weeks these things can prove to be a gaping drain on funds which many don't recover from.
Unlike the couple who dodged the bill, there's also another type of customer who must be costed into ones overheads.
The Professional Complainers.
These individuals operate in a far more clandestine fashion than just brazenly dodging the bill.
Doing whatever they can within their power to eat at your expense without incurring cost to themselves, they have refined their occupation to an art.
Over the years we've learnt how to spot these people.The funny thing about them is that once they've made a complaint and obtained a freebie, the likelihood is that they will be back.
We managed to attract a couple such as this to our previous business.They visited weekly,each time they would make a complaint and obtain some portion of their meal free of charge.In the end we decided enough was enough,so I politely suggested to them that perhaps our restaurant wasn't to their taste and in that respect perhaps they might consider doing us the favour of not returning,whilst all the while flashing them my best winning smile(a great tip if you want to diffuse a customers rage,it confuses them every time)
A similar couple began to frequent the pub shortly after we took over.
Mrs Pro Complainer would always order a glass of champagne,drink half of it then complain that it was flat.Thus obtaining a full replacement glass.Selling Champagne by the glass isn't very profitable.There is less profit in champagne than there is in regular wine.In addition if you open a bottle,then don't sell the rest its wasted-and all profit gone.
I like Champagne,its my drink of choice.If anyone orders a glass of Champagne I can categorically guarantee it isn't flat.For two reasons:
a.I only open half bottles to sell by the glass,to ensure there's none lying around losing its appeal.
b.If there's any left in the bottle at the end of the day,I neck it,its my prerogative,in the interests of maintaining standards of course....
Therefore there is never any served that hasn't been opened the same day.
Next they would order a meal.There would always be a problem with the meal.Generally with something not being cooked to her liking.
On another occasion they ordered after dinner liquers then claimed they had been served 25ml measures instead of the required 50ml.We knew they'd been given the correct measure, but there's just no point in arguing.Better to just write off the loss and replace.
On the last occasion they visited word came back to the kitchen as soon as they walked through the door.Everyone knew who they were and that a catalogue of complaints would follow.True to form the champagne trick was pulled first.Next they ordered an expensive bottle of wine, tried a couple of glasses then decided they didn't like it and asked for it to be changed.
Why do some people think they are trying wine to see if they like it?? Can someone please explain this concept.?Can you imagine any other business where you would be allowed to order something,make it unsaleable then ask for it to be changed??
No matter,hoping to avoid a scene I told the waitress to change it.
Next the meal.They ordered lamb chops and a rump steak.Word was coming back to the kitchen that she wasn't looking happy.As expected the lamb chops weren't pink enough.No matter she had already eaten two of them.Oh and her companion wasn't happy with his steak.Which steak.He had eaten it all. Apparently it was very tough.Not so tough that he managed to masticate and swallow it all.
They were offered replacement meals.
Chef was fizzing:
'After they've finished get them to pay the bill then tell them they're not welcome back here..'
About ten minutes after the replacement meals were sent Mrs Pro Complainer was doing what came best to her, again.This time the chops were too pink.
'She wants to see the Chef' said waitress.
'Well tough,what does she think I'm doing???There's a pile of checks on and she thinks I've got time for a pleasant chat??'
Orders were piling up b'now.Tempers were frayed.
(BTW I've edited these comments slightly for the benefit of your sensibility)
A couple of minutes later Mrs Pro Complainer made the mistake of impatiently steaming into the kitchen to confront Chef.
To be fair Chef handled the whole thing very calmly.He politely ordered her out of his kitchen.In a 'Get orf my land' kind of fashion.
She was bright red and fuming.Emerging from a dimly lit pub into the harsh fluorescent strip light of the kitchen only accentuated her suddenly wrought embarrassment and fear as she clocked Chef in his home environment Global carving knife in hand.
The disturbance could be heard in the dining room.Most of the diners hadn't expected a floor show thrown in with the price.
Waitress asked what she should do about the bill.
'Make em pay it'said Chef 'they've already cost us a bottle of wine two glasses of champagne and two sets of ingredients,we might as well recoup our costs because they aint coming back ..'
By the time waitress got back they were on their way out of the door.The bill was taken over to them but Mrs Pro physically manhandled her out of the way.
Chef was enraged,he tore from the kitchen with me at his heels,approaching them in the car park.He informed them politely but forcefully, that they had forgotten to pay their bill.They continued to walk to their car,Chef was determined,'If you don't pay the bill Ill call the police, I have your car registration number'.
At this point Mrs Pro then dialled 999 and told the police that Chef had threatened to assault her companion. 'good' said Chef 'lets get the police here and let them sort it out'.
Mrs Pro backed down and paid the bill.They haven't been back.
Back in the pub the remaining diners were diligently and obediently troughing their meals,glancing up briefly with amusement on Chefs return to the kitchen.
Chef is not a Front of House person.He prefers me to deal with the diners,but was mindful how the nights events might look.Action must be taken.
He strode into the centre of the dining room and apologised to all the remaining diners for the unexpected Fawlty style shenanigans which they had the misfortune to witness.
HE WAS GIVEN A STANDING OVATION.
Which brings me back to the original story.The other thing that struck me was how badly the restaurant handled this situation.To say that the couple 'were not unusual or suspicious and that the bill was not particularly lavish,but an average spend' to be frank is a massive *PR fail*.
One sure fire way in these times of widespread economic hardship to ensure a backlash of indignation from the masses.
What they should have said was that the couple ordered a lavish meal with Champagne, which they subsequently failed to pay for,causing the restaurant to sustain significant financial loss.
Giving punters up and down the country the impression that your average London couple spend over £500 on a quiet mid week tea in no way helps to dispel the image that the restaurant was in fact getting its come uppance for ripping people off.It kind of rubs their nose in it....