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We're a nation of foodies. In the UK, we dine out twice a week on average, with a spend per person of up to £4,000 a year. So with all that money swilling around and more of us eating out than ever before, is the relationship between customers and restaurateurs calm, considerate and appreciative, or stressed out and snappy?
1. No shows
Jun Tanaka, chef-owner of The Ninth
‘No-shows are a huge problem in the industry. We call our customers to confirm 24 hours before, and again on the day. It’s so easy to cancel, so why don’t they? Some restaurants insist on prepayments, but I don’t want to run my restaurant in that way. Margins are tight and a couple of tables not turning up makes a massive difference.’
2. Penny pitchers
Anna Hansen MBE, chef patron of The Modern Pantry
‘I get annoyed by people who say that £6.50 for soup is a rip-off and that they could make it for less at home. They have no idea about the costs involved – apart from quality ingredients, there’s the lovely space, chefs, table linen, glasses, cutlery, waiting staff, cleaners, insurance, business rates, utility bills, equipment.'
3. Inconsiderate diners
Allegra McEvedy, chef and author of Quick Quick Slow (Kyle, £20)
‘It’s not so much the gluten- free/vegan/lactose-intolerant customers – more that they forget to call ahead to warn the kitchen! Then they arrive in the middle of a busy service and you end up scrabbling around, searching round all the sections, trying to make something – anything – work. It’s like a game of Twister!’
4. Faux allergies
Peter Gordon, co-owner of The Providores & Tapa Room
‘A customer told us she had a severe nut allergy but wanted a dish with pesto in. We were busy but made her a nut-free one, wearing gloves, using a sterilised chopping board and a scrupulously cleaned mortar and pestle. For dessert she ordered a walnut and kumquat tart. The waiter told her it had nuts in. Her reply was, "I'm only allergic to nuts in savoury food."'
5. Fussy eaters
Thomasina Miers, co-founder of Wahaca and author of Home Cook (Faber and Faber, £25)
'When I opened my first Wahaca, we did a simple, delicious quesadilla with cheese and soft black beans – perfect for fussy kids. But parents would ask for it plain, no beans. I used to think, “Why don’t they have beans? Don’t they know anything about nutrition?” But now I have children I see how opinionated they can be.’
Chris Galvin, co-founder of Galvin Restaurants
‘Being waited on is one of life’s greatest luxuries that harks back to a time when only very few could afford it. We think it’s very important that our staff are treated with respect and should not be spoken to in a less polite way than in any other walks of life.'
Atul Kochhar, chef patron at Benares restaurant
‘People who book and don’t show up. But I have the medicine for them! Once or twice I’ve called the missing customer, late that night, after we’ve cleaned up and are ready to leave. I ask them, very politely, if they would kindly let me know if they would still like the table? They are usually very embarrassed.’
Sarit Packer and Itamar Srulovich, owners of Honey and Co
‘We have no problem with cancellations, even late cancellations are OK; sometimes things happen and you just cannot make it, but to simply not arrive, making it too late to allow someone else to have the table.'
Russell Norman, restauranteur and author of Spuntino (Bloomsbury, £25)
‘When I was a waiter in the 1990s, the thing that got my dander up was when large groups decided to split the bill forensically. Eight people arguing over who’s had what used to send me into apoplexy. What I really wanted to do was shout: “The bill is £160. There are eight of you. It’s £20 each, for crying out loud!”’
10. Bespoke intolerances
Sam and Sam Clark, chef owners of Moro
‘Moro prides itself on being infinitely compliant with food allergies, so when we alter plates to accommodate dairy allergies (with minor disruption), it’s always annoying to find that person tucking into a big bowl of Malaga raisin ice cream for pudding!’