How to deal with awards

October 8, 2011

Awards day in mid Wales today. The Good Pub Guide 2012 names us Dining Pub of the Year in Wales for the second consecutive year. And the Michelin Guide finally seees fit to recognise one of the Eatdrinksleep stable with a Bib Gourmand, which recognises good cooking at unusually sensible prices.

How do we deal with awards in this industry?

In truth they can be a double-edged sword for those trying to develop a small business. Here are my rules:

– teams have worked hard to be in a position where we are in consideration for an award. Recognise their efforts and skill.

– we can all look at our shoes and pretend we don’t care about awards. But for a small business the PR opportunity is like a tank of oxygen half way up Everest. Tell the world, quickly and quietly, that you’ve been recognised.

– ultimately the decision of an award is a fairly subjective one and there are others who could equally well be singled out in any one year. Don’t believe the hype.

– the guidebook view is based on guests’ experience earlier in the year. A time that is simply not relevant any more. Focus on the next service.

– you sign a deal with the devil when you win an award. Your regular guests’ expectations soar. New ones come with a heightened sense of anticipation that can only be met by a better service. Meet the challenge.

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Last weekend, twenty four hours of isolation from children and from the Vaio.

First stop: testing a seaside hotel behind Camber Sands (www.thegallivanthotel.com). A brave idea indeed, in a somewhat unpreposessing location. But Harry Cragoe and Tudor Hopkins have done a fine job, with the 18 rooms full on a Friday night in June and the restaurant buzzing to the noise of 50+. A recipe that seems to work and a few thoughts for own future.

The next morning, some shock therapy coffee at The George in Rye (www.thegeorgeinrye.com). Another example of young British hoteliers revolutionising provincial British towns, putting the hotel at the heart of the community. This pair, Alex and Katie Clarke, were at University with me twenty odd years ago. What use our Arts degrees now, except in editing the menus?

I paused to reflect that the two and a half hours that it took us to get from London to Rye was the same as it takes me every week to get from London to The Griffin. Would that more from the south east understood how easy it is to make the leap across the Severn Bridge. I tried not to be too pleased also at how poorly the Kent sea compares to that which laps against our Cornish beaches. Another world.

On the way home, a brief stop at Chapeldown Vineyard near Tenterden. A fully booked restaurant. A restaurant named after the chef. I have never been a fan of that kind of self-regarding chakllege to the fates. Also a restaurant in a vineyard that doesn’t offer glass sizes of 125ml! But English (and Welsh) wines remain on the up. More thoughts on that anon.

Home to children and Vaio. Greeted in that order. I promise.

Sue Vide? Never met her.

September 27, 2010

For a year or two our kitchen team awoke preposterously early every Sunday morning and prepared our Sunday roasts under a method known as sous vide. It involved cooking the meat at relatively low temperatures. The result was to preserve the flavour of the meat and make it unbelievably tender. We thought we were terribly sophisticated and waved aside the more than occasional criticism or unemptied plate as a refusal to keep up with the times.

Beware the restaurant that doesn’t listen to its guests. It took time but we realise that our guests were right all along. So WELCOME BACK TO THE ROAST. We now cook our lamb, beef and pork more traditionally at high temperature. The way you have grown up to love it. And the reason why it used to be difficult to secure a table at the Griffin on Sundays. Let’s see how it works out.

Peculiar customers.

June 29, 2010

We try to record for posterity the more interesting calls we take or guests we serve. This one is priceless and was related to me the other day by one of our team.

I answered the phone and the voice said what I imagined was “Can you cook for me?”

“Of course we can sir, our restaurant is open between……”…

“No, no….. Can you cook me?”

“I am really sorry sir, but it sounds like you’re saying ‘can you cook me’”.

“Yes that is what I am saying, do you have a large oven, I need a large oven”

“Do you mean you want us to cook something for you, like a roasting joint?”

“No I want you to cook me, I am 6ft 2 and 14 stone, do you think I will fit in your oven?”

“I am sorry sir but we don’t do that sort of thing here. If you would like to eat with us in our restaurant then please do”. At which point he hung up.

For the record, the oven would not have been big enough.

A peculiar telephone call to Julie at the Griffin on Saturday afternoon.

Caller: “Hi there, we’re at the train station in Abergavenny and want to get to your pub.”

Julie: “The best way to get to us is a taxi. Can I give you a number?”

Caller: “No a taxi is too expensive. It’s 40 pounds. Do you not have transport available to pick us up?”

Julie: “Sorry, I’m afraid not.”

Caller: “Why not? You can’t be too far away. You’re not being very helpful. How far away are you anyway? We’ll walk.”

Julie: “50 minutes by car. Are you sure I can’t give you a taxi number?”

Caller: “WHAT …….” and then dial tone.

Brilliant. You couldn’t make it up.