A good friend of mine who has been in the hospitality industry as an owner/operator for many, many years commented recently how she felt that the ‘welcome’ in many hospitality venues had deteriorated at about the same time as so called ‘professional service standards’ had supposedly improved.
She didn’t go as far as to say that many of the staff had become snotty and full of themselves, but did tell of going to one of Melbourne’s highly rated bar-restaurants where she was treated with disdain. As she said, it may have had something to do with the fact that she is in her seventies and was by herself, but catching either the head waiter’s or sommelier’s eye was beyond her. And to get a menu – that took at least 30 minutes. Reminds me of this tale: “When the maitre d’ at London’s Ritz Hotel died, some of the patrons took out a Death Notice in The Times which stated: “Pierre has died – someone (God, we presume) finally caught his eye.”
Actually, to be fair, there are some pretty terrific front of house staff around these days – no longer is it the province of “I’m just doing this until a real job as a taxi driver comes up”. But, I do agree with Annie in that there are also a fair number who are up themselves. You know the ones – those who get put out when you don’t take the recommendation of a very expensive bottle of wine from a vigneron, region and grape variety you’ve never heard of. Or those that sneer when you decide that the 400 week rib of beef is not for you – you’ll just have a rare Black Angus Porterhouse, thank you.
Which brings us back to the welcome – as noted, gourmet Andre Simon once said: “The restaurant you like the best is the restaurant that likes you the best” – how true! I’m showing my age, but I remember great Maitre d’s like Ray Tsindos and Leon Massoni, and the great Beppi from Beppi’s in Sydney whose faces lit up when almost any customer walked in the door. And, the master Gilbert Lau from Melbourne’s Flower Drum – he and his staff almost carried you to the table. But, how many times have you walked into a restaurant recently and been ignored by the staff, who are at the other end of the room discussing their weekend activities. Or even if they’re busy not bothering to acknowledge your presence with an “I’ll be with you in a minute” or a gesture conveying the same.
But, it’s not just restaurants. The other night, I was in one of my favourite bars and bloody hell it was hard to get the staff’s attention. Admittedly, neither of the owners were there and, like many Aussie venues, they are dependent on staff from overseas on short term visas and there had just been a staff changeover. But that is when the owners should be there and, by god, were the customers getting peed off. And, being a cynical old tart as I watched the staff discussing their Saturday night plans with their backs to us, I thought to myself that those are most probably the same staff who complain about not getting 500% weekend loading. And, I didn’t really need to know that there was a big rave on Saturday night and, because of that, they would be tossing a sickie on Sunday.
Actually, it reminded me of the son of a friend who worked behind the bar at one of our establishments. He didn’t turn up one Sunday for his shift, or Monday – no phone call, no text, no nothing. But he did turn up on Tuesday and, when asked where he’d been for the last two days, he answered: “I had a big night on Saturday, you know what it’s like.” Actually yes we do, and kindly shut the door on the way out.
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A FLUFFY FRITTATA WITH ASPARAGUS, POTATOES & PARMESAN
Cook 6 peeled baby potatoes in a large pot of salted water until almost tender.
Preheat oven to 200C and brush an ovenproof gratin dish with melted butter.
Cut the potatoes into chunks and put in the dish along with 3 chopped spring (green) onions and a small handful of grated Grana Padana parmesan.
Beat together 6 eggs, 2 tbsp cream, a splash of Tabasco, sea salt and 2 tbsp chopped fresh basil. Pour over the potatoes and bake for about 15 mins until puffed and golden.
After 10 mins, blanch 6-8 peeled stalks of thickish asparagus in a large pot of rapidly boiling, salted water until crisp tender when pierced with a sharp knife. Arrange on top of the Frittata and grate a little extra parmesan over the top.
Who Is Iain “Huey” Hewitson
Born 4 October 1948 (age 69)
Otaki, New Zealand
Iain “Huey” Hewitson (born 4 October 1948 in Otaki), is a New Zealand-born chef, restaurateur, author, and television personality who moved to Australia in 1972. He is best known for his television involvement with Network Ten. He was also the face of supermarket chain BI-LO.
image for illustration only.Photo by https://www.cookinglight.com