Our reply to the Daily Mail….

On Friday 4th of June journalist Andrew Levy had his  article published by the Daily Mail, entitled;

The dark arts of our restaurants: How they trick diners into paying more

Can we say from the start of this post we are not normally Daily Mail readers nor do we read BBC Olive magazine either, but such is the backlash in the catering industry on Twitter and other sites that we couldn’t help but come across this story. It has been originally been written for the BBC magazine ‘Olive’, but as ‘Olive’ has such a poor website we couldn’t find it (they are more interested in getting you to subscribe that giving you any content).

So let’s address the articles ten points, one by one shall we. Oh and just for the Daily Mail readers out there we wont be putting a rather large picture of a nice looking lady in her camisole top half way through just to keep your attention ~ Sorry.

1.Menu Manipulation;

Techniques include putting items the restaurant is keen to promote in the right-hand corner where the eye is drawn or putting costly dishes next to even more expensive ones, making them appear comparatively good value.

ADVICE: Don’t fall for the cleverly laid-out menu. And be wary of French terms, often used to make dishes sound more exotic and justify a higher price tag (eg creme Anglaise means a light custard).

Oh if Chefs & restaurant were so clever, from our experience menu’s are generally written with a style which the chef/owner are happy with. The fashion 2 or 3 years ago was to give dishes one word titles such as ‘Tomato’ or ‘Beef’ (see our example of a Tom Aikens menu ) followed by a list of component parts of that dish. Such luminaries as Heston Blumenthal & Ferran Adria even give dishes a vintage. With regard to the use of french terms, most chefs in the UK are taught in colleges up and down the land and the use of kitchen french is used from day one. Ask any chef what tomato concasse is and any chef worth his salt will be able to tell you. It isn’t some kind of way of flowering up the language it’s just kitchen french. Although saying that, at the time of writing this the 5th most downloaded recipe from the catering industry’s trade press website Caterersearch was ~

Gordon Ramsay’s panaché of roasted scallops on a bed of cauliflower purée with white raisin vinaigrette

Sorry Gordon, but last time we checked a bed was something we slept in.

2. Targeting women with the dessert menu;

Waiters may gush about a dessert because they know women often respond better to recommendations.

ADVICE: Look out for words like ‘warm’ and ‘indulgent’ which try and pander to female dispositions.

Again the vast majority of chefs,owners and front of house staff don’t have degrees in psychology, what they are actually trying to do is their job. They are in the business of trying to make people happy when they come out to dine with them. This is just pure speculation from the Daily Mail & Olive Magazine as to how restaurants actually work. Why look out for words like ‘warm’ and ‘indulgent’ surely these are just adjectives to describe a product, some dishes are actually better served warm rather than cold or hot. This point just shows a lack of understanding about food in general.

3. Chef’s leftovers:

Some businesses will use the specials board to charge a premium for day-old or two-day-old food.

ADVICE: Avoid fish-based or creamy soups which are regular dumping grounds for scraps where flavours can be easily disguised, and fishcakes, particularly the stronger tasting Thai variety.

Hmmm one or two day old food, got news for you. A technique which has been in place for donkeys years is now being employed more and more, it’s called sous vide (sorry for the use of french, for the xenophobic Daily Mail readers amongst you it means under vacuum). Food treated like this has a much longer shelf life and helps chefs work more efficiently. The hours the catering industry places on it staff regularly exceed the work time directive laid out in Europe, so let them use techniques like this. For the less scrupulous restaurant operators out there, they know that their days are numbered. The UK has some of the best regulations in health and hygiene in the world and the EHO’s are regularly bringing people to court over poor standards.

4. Where the tips really go;

Under new rules, restaurants are not always obliged to share out any service charge with staff.

ADVICE: Ask the waiter what the tipping policy is. Cash tips must legally be passed on to staff. And don’t forget the service charge is optional.

Again you are misinformed & misguided. Under HMRC guidelines tips or tronc as the industry know it should be divided by a third party (which may be a senior member of staff) but not the owner of the establishment. The establishment is quite within it’s right to make deductions from the tronc for breakages. All tips/tronc are to be declared and taxed accordingly. So the what the Daily Mail & Olive magazine are actually advocating is that you encourage low paid catering staff to break the law – Nice!

5. Water = Cash

Restaurants’ latest attempt to make money out of tap water is to use filtration systems that enable them to charge a minimum price.

ADVICE: A few years ago ordering tap water suggested you couldn’t really afford to eat out. Now it’s the cool and conscientious thing to do. Don’t feel obliged to have filtered water  –  it’s basically expensive tap water.

Oh Daily Mail you do make us laugh, the filtration systems you refer to have been around for an age – it was just that you didn’t know about them. Secondly, this boils down to basic economics. The tap water isn’t free, neither is the glass or the jug that it comes in, they have to cleaned and served by somebody. This all carries a cost.

6.Small is beautiful?

Restaurateurs know that small or sharing plates present a great way to raise a customer’s average spend, hence the rise in tapas bars.
Their secret is dishes small enough to make you want more at prices that are reasonable enough to encourage multiple purchases.

ADVICE: Take a look around the restaurant as you walk in and make a mental note of the dishes other diners are eating. This will help you decide how much you really need to order.

The real reason for the rise in Tapas bars is because, as much as the Daily Mail hates to deny this, Britain is a multi-cultural environment. Sharing plates actually reduce average spend per head through our experience in the trade. Seriously, make a mental note as you walk in! You really are taking all the fun out of going out for dinner.

7. Wine list trap

Restaurants have grown wise to customers ordering two or three options above the house wine in order not to look cheap and have ramped up these margins accordingly.

ADVICE: Try the Berry Bros & Rudd iPhone application which allows you to check the shop price of more than 2,000 wines typically available in restaurants.

Ok, now you really don’t understand the industry at all. I’m sure that on more than one occasion the british media have derided the catering industry for the price on wine mark ups with some kind of twisted logic. So I’ll explain it to you.

If a restaurant buys a wine at £30 cost and sells it for £100, in your world they have made 230% profit ~ not true. The Gross Profit is 70% out of that figure comes overheads, staffing, recruitment etc etc, this scare tactic by the press is just ignorance of basic accounting, making the public feel like they are being ripped off. Yes, great you can check the price of the bottle of wine you may want to buy on the BBR app if you can match the wine with the same vintage. Does the BBR app supply the knowledgeable staff who have cared for your wine. Will it supply the glassware, we know of several restaurants that use Riedel glassware some of which costs £100 per glass (The Sommeliers Burgundy Grand cru glass).

The answer is a resounding NO, but you fail to point this out.

8. The Surprise attack of the cheese Trolley.

Waiters play up to the ‘sod it’ factor a diner displays when they’ve had some wine.

ADVICE: To avoid being sucked in, make a note of how much the cheese course is when you first look at the menu so that you have all the facts to hand when it matters.

Nowadays it appears that only the really aspirational restaurants in the upper echelons of the Michelin guide do a cheese trolley properly and you’ll pay for it accordingly. For the rest of the catering world the cheese trolley is a mine field of regulations, guidelines  and training, to the point now where most restaurants we know of actually plate the cheese in the kitchen to the request of the customer. The temperature can be controlled, the portion sizes are more regulated & the appearance is more to the chef’s liking. It has nothing to do with taking advantage of tipsy customers.

9. Beware the Set Menu.

They guarantee a diner will spend £25-£30 on food for lunch when they might normally only have spent £15.

ADVICE: Restaurants know diners prefer one easy-to-grasp price  –  but remember you might not want or need three courses. And don’t be lazy  –  add up the cost of ordering a la carte to make sure you are getting good value for money.

Talk about the power of assumption. How does the industry guarantee a diner will spend £25-£30 on food for lunch? Please tell us because that way the industry could actually write business plans a whole lot better and reduce the ridiculously high failure rate of new start ups. How do you decide when you are getting value for money when dining a la carte? All you have for information is generally a list of component parts of a dish & maybe a technique / cooking method. What you don’t have is any weights or measurements of those component parts, so how do you decide if you are getting value for money?

10. Upselling.

The main tactic is the power of suggestion  –  verbal and mental. This includes directing the customer to the bar on entry for an aperitif or only offering still or sparkling water, forcing the diner into the uncomfortable position of having to ask for tap water.

ADVICE: Turn down offers you don’t want with confidence and a smile.

Whilst this is the closest you’ve actually come to a real tactic used in restaurants, again it is a little wide of the mark. In the vast majority of the catering industry pride plays a major part to the staff and what they do. They may try to sell a ‘special dessert’, but mainly because it maybe a new offering which they are considering. The list goes on, but ultimately they are there to enhance your dining experience.

In conclusion

We can’t believe two editors actually let this contrived piece of journalism make it to print. It is ill informed, misguided and further more damaging to an already fragile industry. In February this year pubs were closing at a rate of 39 per week, yet The Daily Mail & BBC Olive magazine seem to be under the impression it is easy to make a living in the catering industry, by fleecing customers. We’ve got news for you it isn’t. Customers now more than ever are in touch with what they want, mainly we believe due to the rising profile in the media. Not everybody needs to be scared by a big brother type publication that every restaurant, hotel & food outlet is trying to fleece them. Yes we have no doubt that there is a small minority of restaurants that do a bad job, but this is like saying anybody that goes to football match is a hooligan. In fact on reflection on your piece, it actually makes us think that your readership are so spineless and weak individuals we’re surprised that they can make it out of their houses to actually be ripped off.

Whilst we’re not really surprised by The Daily Mail we are astonished that a BBC publication would actually print something so potentially damaging to such a massive industry as catering and the people it employs. Good to see you spending our license fee appropriately.

Should you wish to further register your disgust about this article contact the people concerned:

Christine Hayes is the Editor at Olive Magazine, let them know on Twitter how unhappy you are

Andrew Levy can be contacted at The Daily Mail, along with his editor I’m sure.

As a Post script to this story, Christine Hayes from Olive magazine has sent us a copy of their piece. Which she feels the Daily Mail have put their own spin on it. Judge for yourself

Olive article

Just as another addition to this post we would like to point out about our views of Daily Mail readers are actually reinforced by this letter to the editor recently.

8 Responses to “Our reply to the Daily Mail….”
  1. Nina says:

    How come no mention of the writer of the original piece in Olive!

    • chefhermes says:

      This is because Nina as we stated above, when we did our research on the piece & we knew it originated from Olive, but because their website is only concerned with selling subscriptions rather than content we couldn’t find out who the culprit was. Bet they’re glad now.

    • chefhermes says:

      After an email from the editor at Olive, Christine Hayes, we can now name the writer of the original article.

      It was none other than Stefan Chomka of the Restaurant Magazine.

      If you with to take issue with him, please do, he can be found here on twitter

  2. Chumbles says:

    It’s not often I’m driven to write in support of the industry., but I’m a punter on a not very good salary I don.’t often eat out, but when I do I expect and pay for high standards. Let’s take a cheese ‘trolley’; this is one of the most contentious items in the EU today. On the negative side, the current regulations ensure that a decent cheese with the culture that gives the cheese its distinct flavour has already died before it gets to you. IN order to serve a decent cheese board nowadays, you have to jump through hoops and subvert these regulations – as an individual this means most of the cheese you buy IS ALREADY DEAD. It will only deteriorate, unlike the old pre-regulation days, when a decent cheese would actually get better.

    Thank you for giving the illiterate and ignorant pigs, sorry journalists, at Olive and the Daily Mail (who put their food items *spit/* unfer the heading “Femail” as if the preparation and eating of food is the prerogative of one sex) the schmucks – a much-deserved kicking…

    • chefhermes says:

      Cheers Chumbles,

      Your support is always more than welcome.
      As you’re one of the few who have probably been with us from the early days, you’re clearly a person of taste.

      Many thanks for the support.

  3. I am not a Daily Mail reader but I am an Olive subscriber and I actually think the article was quite light hearted and humorous in tone which is something you seem to have missed in your analysis. The article was very much pointing out things like the specials board featuring old ingredients (with no suggestion there was a health risk) which have been raised before by people like Anthony Bourdain. I am very sympathetic to the the issues facing the restaurant industry and I think some of the points you raise about low margins and the difficulty of making a living from restaurants are quite valid. Still I think it is unfair to say that Olive or even the Daily Mail were “ill informed and misguided” to publish a piece that genuinely creates some debate on these issues.

    • chefhermes says:

      Dear Gourmet Chick,

      We fail to see how this article is”quite light hearted and humorous in tone”, as we have taken it directly from The Daily Mail’s website which we believe was reprinted from Olives original article.
      We know many chefs within the industry and because of it’s current high profile within the media you simply cannot get away with what the article implied any more.
      We stand by our conclusion of “ill informed and misguided” as none of any of the writers / contributors / editors connected with this piece, have worked in any kind of professional kitchen for any period of time at a decent level to our knowledge. Therefore can only speculate to what actually happens in kitchens. In our reply to the Daily Mail we’ve actually sited examples to reinforce our belief’s, all they have done is guess, here in lies the difference between us.
      Whilst the rest of the country is nearly out of recession, the catering industry is lagging someway behind as it is a luxury to most, this is yet another reason why this is poor judgment on the Daily Mails behalf.

      From the support from within the industry we’ve recieved on FaceBook & Twitter, we feel like we’ve done the right thing by addressing a national newspaper who have such blinkered views.

  4. The only ‘light’ thing in the article was the camisole top on the non-relevant model in the middle of the article, and it certainly had no heart.

    Well done for putting up such a detailed response, I was furious (as I’m sure you know) when I was tweeted information of this article simply due to the damaging nature of this article to the industry i have devoted 21 years of my life to, and was unsurprised to find only 2 of my 8 or so responses put through to the mail website itself.

    Quite simply both publications should be ashamed of what they have achieved here, lower revenue to any restaurant simply means dropping staff, so well done for adding to unemployment figures in any high Mail readership areas. Hope you feel good about yourselves.

    I could go on for hours, but would simply repeat Chef Hermes responses with much less restraint and political corectness, so I wont, save to add one point to anyone who reads this.

    “Do you really need that daily paper, after all they are inticing you with free CD’s of movies you can find on BBC2 any Sunday afternoon or so called News, just think in this internet age, the news you read happened yesterday so why bother with the paper, you know it all already so save your money then at the end of the week you wont miss a couple of quid on a side order or extra tapas when you go out to be served by paid proffessionals on immaculately ironed good quality linen, on hand polished cutlery, drinking out of top-class glasses, eating great ingredients cooked by talented cooks in a great location, all of which come at a cost, so you do not have to do the washing up, or shopping…. Oh nor the cooking. getting the point yet?”

    I may not have put any journalists on the dole with that, but maybe these fools can just lend a little thought before uneducatingly damage a fragile industry, also to the readers before you give the already hassled staff more issues to deal with, give a thought that none of them leave to house to go and do a bad job, we are all human, yes even you! Remember “TO ERR IS HUMAN…. TO FORGIVE DIVINE”, by a side if you want, an extra tapas if you are having a great time, the cheese if you like cheese. or simply dont if you don’t. If you are going to analyse the meal with your wallet as you walk through the door, stay at home and microwave yourself another dinner, your dining pleasure will be about the same.

    Thanks for the chance to rant a bit more.

    Alex (a very disgruntled London chef)

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