Does anyone else think the restaurant industry is, well, a bit last century? It seems we spent some time inventing the out-to-eat concept, some more time getting it right (or not – some places still struggle with the concept of food and service in the same sentence) and then we let it quietly moulder away as if there was simply nothing more to be done about it. And so the industry has become something of a lumbering behemoth: no-one seems quite able to innovate and maintain before being buried under a pile of press cuttings and selling out to a chain.
Every now and then you hear a whisper of someone trying something a bit different: the hotdog-champagne bar; the tired tapas/grazing concept; the regional ‘authentic’ Italian/American/Chinese; the computerised tables for ordering – all introduced with varying degrees of success. And if you care to look around, there are some cracking ideas out there: free taxi services at lunchtimes to enable diners within a certain radius to be back within their lunchbreak; electric car chargers; the instigation by VisitEngland of the Access Statement Online Tool which aims to improve access into restaurants and cafés; the introduction of allergy awareness training. All will make a difference to the restaurant and the customer’s experience.
We’d like to add a couple of ideas of our own. We may have ranted about them before, but they’re worth a moment of consideration. It’s still a disgrace that non-drinkers are stuck with soft drinks at a meal when there are a wealth of choices of low- and no-alcohol wine and beer. Many consider the acidic taste of fruit juice or the saccharine nature of fizzy drinks utterly unsuited to dinner and they smack of condescending infantilisation towards those who choose not to drink alcohol. And it’s not like you can BYO…. Why not?
Secondly, we’d like to see more restaurants offering the option of takeaway. Let’s face it, if Chinese, Indian and Italian restaurants can somehow manage to parcel up a smorgasbord of dishes for a willing customer, why can’t restaurants of other ethnicities step up? For those who can’t get or afford a babysitter, for those who are stuck at home ill or convalescing but unable to cook, for those who would like to eat out but find the additional costs of transport, tips, drinks and so on too much of a financial stretch, surely this would be a clever way of reaching out to potential new customer bases.
We’d also like more variety on children’s menus too, please. Forgive the generalisation, but if you’re taking your kid out to a restaurant (we’re excluding fast food), you’re probably not the kind of parent who force feeds chips at every meal. So why can’t the kids be offered smaller portions of the adults menu at every restaurant, rather than the sorry ‘chicken nuggets/fish/sausage and chips’ combos that are the standard fare? Why not start with higher expectations of their adventurous nature and appetite rather than pander to the lower?
And so, over to you. What ideas do you have that would improve our restaurants? Is there anything that regularly gets your blood pressure up that you know you could fix in a snap, if only you had the voice?