Wednesday, May 04, 2016

Funniest Tripadvisor review ?

The funniest review of my favourite restaurant.
The reviewer is clearly gifted- hilarious recollection of an attempting meal at La Petite Maison in Nice.
It reminded me so many good memories there....

“A once in a lifetime experience...”
1 of 5 starsReviewed 27 August 2015
One immediately knows that something special awaits when, a couple of days before the big day, one calls the restaurant to confirm a reservation which has been made several weeks in advance. A sort of conversational quick-step begins when I confirm that I have a reservation, but want to double check whether it is for 8pm or 8:30pm. “What time would you like” comes the reply; “What time is the reservation for?” I respond; “Well what time would you like?” again they ask… After 2 minutes of this back and forth I confirm that our party of 5 will be there at 8pm and hang up with a growing sense of anticipation (or was it trepidation…). The day itself arrives and in our best glad-rags we made our way over to the restaurant; the follow up to the telephone tango did not disappoint. Upon arrival at the restaurant we walked through the front terrace up to the main reception whereupon I was reassured to see that, given recent terrorist activity around the world, they obviously took clients’ safety very seriously – we were greeted by a row of stony faced security personnel, cunningly disguised as waiters, who scrutinized us up and down before parting to reveal the manager, the formidable “Nicole”, described by the French press as a “personality”… With her diminutive head of security by her side, she glanced over at us and, as Emperor Titus, waived her thumb in the direction of a table delightfully situated just off the main entrance, at the foot of a large staircase, laid for 4 people. While I was particularly enchanted by the proximity to the stairwell, the view of the service hatch, and the close physical contact this location afforded us of people entering and leaving the restaurant as well as the comings and goings in the stairwell, what sold me was the fact that this was a multi-functional table featuring a large bread hamper at one end, which the waiters frequently flocked to whilst replenishing clients’ bread baskets. My party, however, were less impressed and stated that not only was the table not set up for 5, but that it was terribly located and that we would prefer another one in the room which at this stage still stood half empty (8pm). It was at this stage that we could fully appreciate the French sense of humour, so often misunderstood. Our request raised a reaction tinged with hilarity and horror. The Lady herself, followed by her diminutive minion, walked among the empty tables, pointing randomly and audibly muttering how this one was booked for “Mr Le Juge”, and the other for “Mr le Prefet”. Whilst we truly appreciated the guided tour of “who’s who” of the restaurant seating plan, this did little to help our case and, still standing in the middle of the restaurant waiting to be seated, my party were growing impatient. After a few more minutes Nicole muttered that there were no other available tables, which the minion repeated as the words had not been spoken to us directly, to which he added that this was a very good table. I am sure that Mr Le Prefet, when he finally arrived at the restaurant, asked to be moved given that our table was so much better than the one that had been earmarked for him! I do hope that Nicole did not feel slighted by our decision to turn down their kind offer of such a delightful table, I myself am rather partial to an animated dining experience and enjoy the feeling of people jostling my chair throughout a meal, watching the activity around the service hatch, and having fresh bread so readily available. I particularly appreciated the manner with which, as we were leaving the restaurant, one of the waiters uttered “see you soon” with a charming smirk on his face. As for the food, I unfortunately cannot comment on this, which is a shame given that La Petite Maison in London is one of our favourite restaurants, however if the food is on par with the service at this Nice establishment, I would go as far as saying that this is an experience which cannot be equaled...
  • Visited August 2015

Tuesday, May 03, 2016

Service Charge Debate: A view From the Inside

As a time of year when one of the most important questions in our generation is being considered and debated- remaining or leaving Europe- something rather trivial for all of us is getting some interest in the media:
Shall we force restaurants to include service charge in their pricing?

I have been thinking about this for a while and having ran a restaurant in a country where service is included (France) I am getting quite worried about the impact on employees rather than employers those changes will ultimately have; unless we look in depth about how it might affect peoples lives, things should not be rushed just because a spoilt food pundit is having an existential tantrum. 

At the moment, “his” annoyance of having an extra line on a restaurant bill adding 12.5% service charge is the main problem. One could wonder why this has not been factorized already in the price of the meal but I think a lot more thinking has to be put into this to decide ultimately if this arrangement needs to be changed.

So this what currently happens in a British restaurant: 
An employer usually pays his employees minimum wages per hour and then allows a Tronc master to distribute usually between 90 to 100% of the total discretionary service charge collected via credit card, cheque or cash payments (which is 12.5% of a total restaurant bill ex VAT). 
A tronc scheme is something serious and follows strict guidance from HMRC. 
A tronc master who is usually elected by employees (who have probably left long time ago) decides who earns what (as point or percentage of the amount collected) and distribute the money accordingly. 

Because HMRC accepts that service charge is not a safe income, there is no NI contribution on the amount paid from the Tronc and a fixed % on income regardless of the amount. It is a great benefit for an employee who can receive a share of income tax discounted. But again, for small earners who only collect a tiny portion of service charge, one way or the other does not make much difference. From the employer side, the saving from using this method is quite small.
However, for those who collect a big chunk of the Tronc, this is like earning your salary in Panama.

In fact, there is no maximum as to how much you can pay yourself from the tronc.
Say, if a restaurant collects £20,000 of Tronc money per month and the Tronc master decides to keep half of that for himself; there is nothing stopping him from doing so. Imagine earning more than £120,000 per year (on top of your minimum wage) only taxed at around 20%. Not bad.

There is no arguing that this arrangement is a massive carrot for top people in a restaurant and has helped to retain and motivate many of them and ultimately helped to make this country one of the most hospitable in Europe.

On the other hand, France who abolished “payment รก la piece” many years ago, things are very different there.
Based on 35 hours a week, a minimum wage for a French waiter is equivalent to a British one (just over €9 euros per hours x35 against £7.20 x40); cost of National Insurance plus many other things pushes the price of employment to almost €18 an hour.
This makes an impossible mission for an employer to entice staff by offering them the opportunity to earn more by selling more; to earn more by being kinder to guests; to earn more by being flexible with guests…etc
Some might say that all of this should be standard- but sadly it is not the case.
Go and grab a lunch in a Paris brasserie and you’ll quickly understand that when there are no carrots, service suffers.
Employees are locked in their “service inclus” and quickly come to the conclusion that an ok service will pay them as much as an outstanding service.

The system currently in place here in UK is intelligent and works for both employers and employees. So as long as a Tronc system is not abused by greed - things should stay exactly as they are. 


Veganisteria 111

Deep Problem If there was one thing that has seriously amazed me since becoming a vegan chef is the fact that I am still not connected ...