The easiest way to (not) lose guests – a quick advice for the restaurant owners


I am a food lover. Give me a great dish and I will forget everything around me. Or at least I always thought so. But not after what happened to me recently at a Michelin starred restaurant in London. You might win me over quickly with great cooking – but you will lose me just as fast if the service is bad.

Not so long ago I went with two friends (managers of well-known restaurants in London) to a Michelin starred establishment for lunch. Food was fine – nothing wrong with the dishes, but nothing exceptional.

We have already paid when one of my companions said that his girlfriend taught him to always check the bill. And so we checked. And we discovered that although there were only three of us we had been charged for four – a mysterious and wholly fictitious fourth companion had been eating with us!

We alerted a waitress who took the bill to the restaurant manager who in turn came to us and asked us in a cold and arrogant manner what was wrong. We explained once more about the fourth guest and after some hesitation she gave the value of one lunch back – but, BUT ! – not the service charge for that lunch. Neither did she apologise or through her body language show any signs of remorse. This lack of surprise or animation provoked a question: Was it really just a mistake?

For years I have worked with chefs prior to moving to the UK to move my business here, so I know what being a chef means – how much sacrifice it requires and how big responsibility it represents. I admire and respect chefs and I know mistakes can happen. But just if they are really genuine errors.

I was sure that chef who’s name was above the door – although not there on the day – would care very much about any mistakes his staff might have made.  And so I informed him kindly about my experience. He asked me for my phone number but after two days with no contact from his side I wrote to him detailing my complaint. This finally provoked a response – although still no apology, just a request to know who the manager was that day. He said he would check what was going on, but he never came back to the issue.

To finish of the story – yesterday I had lunch with a friend over from Dubai.  We went to the Peruvian restaurant Lima – a place I always love to return to. The food – and service! – are great. I related my recent experience and he commented that it happens often also in Dubai. He always checks his bill now. His feeling is that many guests don’t usually – or rigorously – check the bill and instead just hand over their card – with restaurants growing wise to this and using it to their own advantage.

After all restaurants are not just about food. They are also about hospitality. About making you feel good. Nobody is expecting the staff to do the impossible, but beside good manners there also needs to be a large element of trust.

By acting in this manner a restaurant will suffer in the long run – once trust is lost it never returns and neither will the customers.

I have not mentioned the name of the restaurant and the chef as I don’t want to leave any negative impact on his business. I just want to be constructive and I hope this will make some restaurant owners think and be more attentive about these issues.

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4 Responses to “The easiest way to (not) lose guests – a quick advice for the restaurant owners”
  1. dragonlife says:

    That is bad indeed! It would never happen in Japan, or Shizuoka for that matter. It is true that some people will never apologize for fear of losing face, but this is not acceptable. If all this is all true I would still (although I never write an article with the express reason of criticizing ) give the name of the restaurant, the chefs as well as precise dates and times!
    All the best,
    Robert at Shizuoka Gourmet

    • It is all true.
      What would publishing names, date and time help? That would be criticising. And this was not my intention. All I wated is to show to restaurant owners what problems sometimes happen with the staff, so they would be more careful, plus making them think how to (not) solve such cases if they ever happen at their restaurants.
      I have sent this article also to that chef. So he saw it. Did he respond? Yes, he did, in his own way – he has disconnected from me on Facebook and stopped following me on Twitter even if I have never mentioned his name. So now you know – chefs who are following me on Twitter or are connected with me on Facebook are not him 😉
      Most chefs I know would solve such things in completely different ways. But there are obviously some (luckily rare) cases where people don’t know how to behave. I hope he has at least learnt something out of this and will never do the same mistake again.

  2. It’s crazy and amazing how some restaurants work hard to became famous and when they get it they start to relax as they think that they don’t need to keep working cause they will be top restaurants forever. Is then when, wrong in my opinion, their chefs start to focus in promote themselves and spend much time out of their restaurants…..

    • Sadly some people can’t handle well success. They start believing that whatever they do, even if wrong, is right.
      But I have worked with many chefs and luckily there are many of them who remain grounded and humble even if they reached much higher in the world of cuisine than the chef from my post above. And I really admire those.
      One example of incredibly humble and down to earth chef is Jason Atherton. I didn’t work with him, but am following his career from outside. He is one of the most celebrated chefs in UK right now, who has opened in three years at least thirteen restaurants worldwide (London, Shanghai, Hong Kong, Singapore and Dubai) and is opening some new ones still (in New York for example) and yet, he cares for each of them and for every single guest who enters any of his places. This man is incredible. I am asking myself if he has cloned himself to be able to do all this….
      People like him and all other passionate and hardworking chefs who care about what they are creating and who love to see their guests happy are those who really count. And I am sorry if the negative exceptions throw bad light on them too.

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