‘It’s personally insulting’: 17 chefs on the customer antics that most enrage them


Chefs work under constant scrutiny. Everyone is a critic now, from the couple muttering at table 12 to those angrily logging on to TripAdvisor. Generally, chefs suck up this feedback silently; that is how the hospitality industry works. So, we thought it might be fun – therapeutic, even – to turn the tables for once and ask chefs: what do diners do that really winds you up? From minor irritations to serious misdemeanours, here is a rundown of the customer behaviour that chefs can’t stand.

TripAdvisor bullies

Si Toft, the Dining Room, Abersoch, Gwynedd
“There have always been people who lick the plate clean then say it wasn’t very nice and start haggling for a discount. Now they think TripAdvisor gives them power. I’ve had people look at the bill, then suddenly start criticising the food and threatening floor staff with: ‘I’ve written hundreds of reviews,’ or: ‘I’ll do a good review if you knock the wine off.’ It’s often seasonal visitors, maybe one a week, and they’re blatant. If I’ve messed up in the kitchen, if a complaint is genuine, tell us straight away. I’ll happily deal with it. But I won’t be blackmailed. I’ve taken bookings where people say: ‘I’ll be reviewing, what’s that worth?’ Nothing. It’s the same price.”

Telephone tyrants

Alex Claridge, the Wilderness, Birmingham
“A reshuffle of tables might have been possible had you been polite on the phone, but if you’re rude, if you kick off because we’re full on a Saturday night, it won’t be. One gentleman shouted: ‘It’s just not good enough, is it?’ His manners definitely weren’t.”

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Heavy petting

Couple kissing in a restaurant



‘Tongues out is embarrassing for waiters and other guests.’ Photograph: Susan Wides/Getty Images/Uppercut RF

Melanie Arnold, Rochelle Canteen, London
“A romantic kiss is fine, but tongues out is embarrassing for waiters serving the table and other guests. But snogging is possibly trumped by the mid-dinner breakup. That puts a dampener on the evening.”

No-shows

Mark Greenaway, Grazing, Edinburgh
“Restaurants aren’t airlines – we don’t overbook. We book to capacity, pay chefs to prep the food and staff waiters accordingly. In a 60-cover restaurant, if 15 people don’t turn up, that has a huge financial effect. It’s an industry-wide problem running at about 20%, I’d say. We don’t mind cancellations. Plans change. But if you book, turn up. If you’re not going to, let us know.”

Accusations of profiteering

Mary-Ellen McTague, the Creameries, Manchester
“Ninety-nine per cent of our feedback is lovely, but there’s the odd person who says we charge unreasonable prices, which feels personally insulting. We charge a fair price for the amount of food, its quality and the time it takes. It would be good to do an infographic on the wall explaining how what you pay is divided up on staff, food, rent, utility bills, business rates, VAT, insurance. We don’t make a huge profit.”

Complaining about ‘cakeage’

Woman blowing out birthday candles



‘It’s like going to McDonald’s with a takeaway and saying: “I’ve come for a McFlurry.”’ Photograph: Ezra Bailey/Getty Images

Ryan Simpson-Trotman, Orwell’s, near Henley-on-Thames, Berkshire
“If people want to bring a birthday cake to eat instead of our desserts, there’s a small ‘cakeage’ charge – £30 tops for 10 or more people. Someone said it was ‘terrible’ on Twitter, but you’re taking our dessert value down from £10 a person to £3. It’s like rocking up at McDonald’s with a takeaway to eat and saying: ‘I’ve come for a McFlurry.’ It’s ridiculous.”

Closed minds

Andrew Wong, A Wong, London
“One of my biggest peeves is when a guest assumes there is one definition of what Chinese food is. We use a cottage cheese, traditionally from Guangdong, created after working alongside [the food anthropologist] Dr Mukta Das and analysing her research into Chinese Buddhist vegetarian communities. Yet some guests still argue it’s inauthentic because ‘you don’t get cheese in China’. It’s difficult to introduce people to new aspects of a cuisine when they don’t want their fixed ideas to change.”

Unflagged allergies

Liz Cottam, Home, Leeds
“We do pescetarian and vegetarian versions of our tasting menu and can accommodate nut and shellfish allergies and gluten intolerance. We provide you with our allergy information at booking. You’ll be asked questions about this. If necessary, our admin team will call you. But although we do all that, you’ll still get someone with a lactose and gluten intolerance that precludes 99% of the elements on every dish who won’t tell us until the night. People also go: ‘I’m allergic to nuts,’ while they’re eating the snack. That might have almonds in it. This could kill you. Why would you not tell someone about something so severe? It terrifies me.”

Grabby guests

Sai Deethwa, Buddha Belly, Birmingham, Sheffield and Liverpool
“On Saturday nights, when they’ve had a drink, certain people can get carried away and start helping themselves to the garnishes on my street-food stall like it’s a Harvester salad bar. I’ve had someone grab a literal handful of pickled carrot and walk off; another tipped a whole bowl of pricey micro-coriander on to their plate. Then you get people reaching for our serving utensils to prettify their plates with toppings for Instagram. I’m like: ‘What are you doing?!’”

Stony scrutiny in open kitchens

Aktar Islam, Opheem, Birmingham
“There are couples who in life have said everything to one another and who, when they eat out – and they’re sitting close to the open kitchen at Opheem – tend to stare, stony-faced at us … or is it into the abyss? When someone sits in silence, staring at you for hours, you feel it. It begins to freak you out. Show a bit of emotion, please. Give us a smile, maybe.”

Smartphone addicts

Ruth Hansom, Pomona’s, London
“I love eating as a social event, which is why all my menus are designed to share. My biggest nightmare is seeing two people sitting on their phones, not talking, eating but not taking much interest in it. Then there’s people taking pictures for 10 minutes, getting the angles right, who try to send the food back because it’s cold! At a restaurant, you get given something people have spent hours prepping. Don’t waste your money.”

Influencers

Alexis Gauthier, Gauthier Soho, London
“Like any central London restaurant, we receive a couple of requests a day for free meals, in return for posts from social media influencers. Most are turned down. The consensus is: if an influencer needs to approach you, they’re not worth working with. Some are polite, some cocky, some downright entitled. They believe their own hype. They think any exposure is beneficial. I’ve seen high-profile openings, booked out for three months on influencer babble, that six months later are empty. Long-term regulars is the holy grail. I have guests who came on first dates who are now celebrating years of marriage. They’re true ambassadors.”

Fag breaks between courses

Couple in conversation outside of cafe



‘It can mess up the timings.’ Photograph: Jupiterimages/Getty Images

Roberta Hall-McCarron, the Little Chartroom, Edinburgh
“We want people to have a good time. If that involves having a cigarette, it’s a free world. But it can mess up the timings in how we run service. You’re cooking fish to order, it’s got 30 seconds left in the pan, then you’re told: ‘No, sorry, someone’s out having a cigarette.’ That’s a niggle.”

Unachievably specific cooking instructions

Henry Harris, Harcourt Inns, London
“I want everyone to feel valued. If someone likes very well-done steak, give it to them, otherwise they’ll think you’re an arrogant cock. But then there are the people who think they are far more important than they are, who demonstrate that by making pointless requests such as: ‘I want a steak between rare and medium-rare, slightly on the medium-rare side.’ You look at them with … bemusement.”

Using a knife and fork on finger food

Nieves Barragán Mohacho, Sabor, London
“If this irritates me, it’s only because I want guests to enjoy the food. For example, if they try to eat pan con tomate with a knife and fork, we say: ‘No, just get it in your hands and get into it,’ and they love it. Peeling prawns is the same. You don’t get extremely messy and who cares? You can wash your hands.”

Rude guests

Monica Galetti, Mere, London
“One of the toughest things I find to deal with is when guests are unnecessarily rude to my team. Coming to my restaurant should be an enjoyable experience for everyone involved and my team work very hard to make sure of that. On the occasion there may be a problem, I’m sure we can find a solution, but rudeness is not something I like to tolerate.”

Dish (re)designers

Samantha Evans, Hang Fire Southern Kitchen, Barry, Wales
“People cannibalising elements from lots of dishes to create their own menu can be frustrating. A little is OK, but chefs spend days tweaking dishes so that elements balance and enhance. They don’t always appreciate a dozen swap-outs.”



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