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Rav Gill: I got kicked out of a restaurant, and I liked it

Yeah, it happened. I didn’t like the food in a recent restaurant opening, and after the feedback was terribly received, I was asked to leave. Instagram enjoyed it, people were hilariously outraged for me and a few friends (namely one well known restaurant manager) called me the next morning to cackle hard down the phone uncontrollably at my misfortune.

 

I won’t go into the details of the evening but to cut a long story short, I only managed to struggle through the starters before I left. There was burrata, tuna sashimi, a picked crab meat dish, sea bass ceviche and a dry bread basket. I’ve never before gotten to the point of giving negative real life feedback to the exec chef who had cooked my food. I generally only give praise, because I’ve got an unwritten rule that if I don’t like something, I just won’t return.

That evening, after lots of people started asking me where the place was, I stuck to my guns and refused to publicly out them (something that I don’t think is fair, especially at a time where the restaurant world is a bit on its knees).

Staffing is a real issue. So is the supply chain of goods. These things are having a real impact on the quality of food in restaurants –  the lack of qualified staff means there’s issues of consistency and reliability, and not being able to get certain ingredients means that some things won’t be the same. At a time where the industry needs support I’m really eager to try something new and support places that are trying to make a name for themselves (even if I do get kicked out).

 

On the evening itself, when the waitress questioned why we didn’t eat the food, she suggested I speak to the chef. I thought it was because the chef was open to feedback. I hadn’t anticipated otherwise. Surely if the chef wasn’t that sort of person, the waitress wouldn’t have suggested it… right?

I waited for 10 minutes until the chef arrived with a frown to crouch down next to me, through smiles and sympathy frowns myself, I apologetically described why I couldn’t eat the food and said I would never do this but thought it would be helpful if one of the chefs in his team had made a mistake. Even though I knew the exec chef was tryna front and made those dishes himself, I was trying to give him an OUT. The frown continued before he started blinking a lot, a few awkward pauses and mounting frustration later he said he would ask the manager to close the table. I’m not going to lie, I was a bit shocked. I thought there was room for a conversation. I wasn’t aware that I would be asked to leave. Awkward!

 

As I walked out of Mayfair into Soho in search of somewhere to finish the evening, half giggling with my friend, it sunk into my soul that there was something familiar about the look on that chef’s face. I knew that look, his ego was damaged, his authority challenged and ultimately my feedback was an attack on his ability to do his job. A mix of embarrassment and defensiveness in equal measure.

The food isn’t what pissed me off though, it’s the bubbling anger that someone in an exec position, who is essentially in charge of overlooking the training of other people, can’t handle feedback. It’s the reminder that people continue to get into positions of power through blagging.

The reason why it hits me so hard is because I’ve been there. I’ve been a chef with bosses like that. A few years back the exec chef slammed a table down at me and shoved his finger in my face when I asked him why he had been aggressive towards my chef team during an event. As soon as questions started to arise around his ability to cook (not from me, but from the owners and other chefs during events when the food wasn’t how it should have been), it all unravelled before eventually he left the very day he was due to be fired. How did someone with so little people skills and very little culinary ability find themself in the position of exec chef? And how did someone like this manage to pull the wool over a wealthy restaurant owners’ eyes?

We need to be better at encouraging soft skills because often those that make it to the top are the ones who get fed through the system, who are then responsible for others. The system is self-perpetuating – i.e. people’s bosses lack soft skills, so that’s what they learn when they come up through the ranks. They mimic this learned behaviour when they reach positions of responsibility.

 

But how do you interview for those skills? It’s easy to make claims during interviews about how important the team is and how much you care about nurturing a healthy environment. Typically the trial is only a small window into someone’s ability to cook and work which seems to override the ‘people’ side of the hiring process. With the short timelines between searching, interviewing, trialling and giving someone the job, how can companies give chefs who are in a position of power the support they need to implement changes in a team and to monitor the work culture?

 

These are questions that we as a team at Countertalk are always reflecting on and discussing with companies. Opening up conversations around this is an important part of it. We are constantly seeing the repercussions of poor management and leadership in the hospitality industry.

 

Staff are few and far between, so it’s vital that the ones who want to learn, grow and thrive are inspired by positive role models and encouraged to develop those soft skills that will pay off in the long run – not only from a business perspective, but also on a human level. After all, it’s the humans who make or break the business.

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