After months confined to our home kitchens, you’d think there would be a lot of love for restaurants. You’d think the idea of someone else cooking your meal, pouring your drinks and then doing the washing up would be a blissful respite. Turns out, not so much.
Even before the 4 July reopening, many restaurants were fully booked. Across the industry, there was a collective sigh of relief that customers were keen to return. Even with social-distancing guidelines limiting both seats and service, restaurants might just survive.
Staff were rehired, kitchens restocked and tables laid with reservation cards. Restaurants gave up hope of breaking even and halved their capacity to welcome back customers in comfort and safety. Except, when it came to it, many of the customers who had booked so eagerly simply didn’t show.
In the absence of a working contact-tracing app, restaurants are expected to do it themselves. The only sure way to know who is eating and when is by reservation. Gone are the days of second sittings and a queue of waiting customers. Once a table is reserved, the restaurant is committed to hold the seat for that person, whether they choose to turn up or not.
It’s one thing for an unpopular restaurant to be empty, another thing entirely for one to be fully booked and empty. Other reservations have been refused, food has been prepared and staff are being paid into the night in the vain hope that the clients might just be running late. As the unused tables are cleared, it’s not just a fridge full of wasted food, it’s the people who depend on the restaurant’s viability for their livelihood. The service and kitchen staff, local producers and supporting businesses, many of whom jumped to help with meals for NHS or home deliveries for self-isolators.
Not pitching up when you’ve promised is rude, selfish and affects livelihoods. For a nation known for its politeness, when it comes to dining out in the UK, we seem to forget ourselves. Under Covid-19, common courtesy has been lost along with common sense, common good and common wealth.
“No-shows” are a recent trend, but then it could be argued that we’ve never really held the hospitality trade in high regard. Set aside the glamorous world of celebrity chefs; catering colleges are still seen as the domain of secondary school dropouts. A career in hospitality is viewed as one up from a paper round. Ask any bar worker how often a customer asks what their “real” job is.
So why don’t we value our restaurants? The industry’s past reputation for poor wages and bad service hasn’t helped. If the restaurants don’t value themselves, why should their customers? There are social hang-ups too. The Upstairs Downstairs notion that you pay to be waited on has guilt-inducing master-servant associations. It’s the culinary equivalent of having a cleaner. Some people are uncomfortable being served while others feel clicking their fingers for service is completely acceptable. It isn’t. And, for that matter, neither is pulling a no-show.
Our independent home-grown restaurants are the backbone of British cuisine. They support local producers and promote our national cuisine. At the same time they push culinary boundaries, inventing new dishes which end up replicated on supermarket shelves as the latest food trend 18 months later. Our reputation for beige mince and boiled cabbage long expunged, Britain is now a world gastronomy destination, courtesy of much hard work in restaurant kitchens. Lose our local food places and we lose our culinary heritage and with it a large and important section of the economy.
True, these kitchens cost more to run because the food is fresh, carefully sourced and has limited shelf life. Like customers, not all restaurants are so discerning. If chlorinated chicken makes it into the country, it will be through the back door in cheap fast food and “Bogof” outlets. When VAT goes back up, costs will be kept down by sourcing cut-price products from emerging markets.
Some restaurants have already decided to shut to the public and open as private venues. If others follow suit we will end up with just two tiers of eating out. Private dining for the elite, with the rest of us queuing for our preferred deep-fried burger.
There is no easy fix to the no-show crisis. There are various schemes mooted for deposits and fines, but they are complicated. None would compensate for the loss of revenue. Chances are that existing customers would be alienated and the rules impossibly onerous to tourists.
Our restaurants are national treasures, and whether it’s a takeaway or a tasting menu, we should value the diversity of our food industry. We may only visit local restaurants on high days and holidays; but that’s the point. It is a chance to taste the extraordinary, to enjoy being spoiled with the added relief of walking away from the table without arguing over the washing up. That has to be worth honouring your reservation.
Source: Thanks https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2020/jul/18/restaurant-no-shows-politeness-uk-dining