Category Archives: restaurants

Tipping Tyranny

Service charges, gratuities, tips in restaurants – call them what you like, they need to go.

When I’ve looked into the justifications for the existence of this antiquated convention one that comes up frequently is that it supplements the income of poorly-paid waiting staff. Another popular one is that it allows you to reward exceptional service.

Allow me to demolish both.

If restaurants are paying staff so badly that waiting staff are obliged to solicit (or at least tacitly hope for) supplementation from customers directly, it sends the message that the restaurant isn’t paying its staff a living wage. I’m not comfortable giving my custom to a business that incorporates inadequate wages into its business model. Neither do I want to see a separate “service charge” on my bill. I don’t see a “service charge” when I buy my groceries at the supermarket and I don’t want to see one at a restaurant. I’m not interested in the costs of any other aspect of a particular restaurant’s business model. Just incorporate the cost of staffing into the price of the meal and spare me the hassle of umming and ahhing about how much to tip when I’m in a hurry to leave at the end of the meal.

As for rewarding exceptional service, that logic risks over-attentive, obsequious and artificially “friendly” behaviour by waiting staff desperate to impress. I want waiting staff to provide very good service as a norm because it is the house policy to do so. If an individual goes above and beyond I’ll reward it with good feedback in social media and, most importantly, repeat business.

Advertisements

Restaurant/hotel review: “The Drawing Room”, Powys

We stayed here recently and I though it might be worth sharing our experiences.

More a restaurant with rooms or a boutique hotel, the owners of The Drawing Room set very high standards of presentation, decor, comfort and cooking, without being stuffy or overly formal. If you are staying in the area and can afford it, I’d recommend this over one of the larger hotels in Builth or Llandrindod Wells, particularly if you like elegance and peace and quiet.

The rooms are decorated in pastel shades with hand-made wallpapers and furniture in keeping with the archtiectural era of the house. Sumptuously thick materials suggest no expense was spared in getting the curtains and bedcovers right. There were more pillows and cushions than I could imagine using. Bad luck meant we weren’t able to get one of the larger rooms, but ours did not feel cramped.

As for the food, starters of a sort of crab timballe and a seafood meunière were competent and tasty while not dramatically good. The main courses delivered on their promise though. I had a Tournedos of Welsh Beef with caramelized Shallot “Tarte Tatin”, Potato and Root Vegetable Pavé, Horseradish and Parsley Cream and Beef Jus with Oxtail while Mrs Monnowman had a haunch of venison with sweet potato and asparagus. Both were very good, though of the two I was glad I had gone for the beef: the shallot tarte tatin was a revelation.

Cappuccino Mousse was a very grown up (read: “not too sweet”) dessert for Mrs M. while I went for the Toasted Pine Nut & Honey Tart with poached Figs and “Glaslyn” Estate Wild Flower Honey Ice-cream: a delightful combination of flavours and textures.

The passion of the proprietor chef for good, local ingredients, sympathetically cooked, is obvious in the richness of flavours delivered without the food becoming over-contrived in that fashionably- Michelin-starred way.

Only quibbles were the request in the literature not to drink your own alcohol in the rooms (you are asked to buy their -very expensive- stuff); we could easily hear our neighbours in the adjacent room; and the hostess, when serving food, said “thank you” too often!

But these are minor niggles. We really enjoyed our stay and the food was very good: recommended.

Good dining in Monmouthshire

Ate dinner at “The Bell” at Skenfrith with friends from London on Saturday to celebrate K.’s birthday. To call it a “gastropub” seems a little unfair as it has a standard of cooking that would not be out of place in the best of London’s restaurants. All the better then that it is a fifteen minute drive from Monmouth and set in beautiful countryside. The ambiance is classy but not stuffy or pretentious and this seventeenth century coaching inn is obviously run by people who know – and care about – high quality local food. There’s even a blackboard with the names of the local suppliers so you know who provided that venison/guinea foul/sea bass etc.

I had been wondering where the upmarket restaurants were in Monmouth. Seemingly none. Odd, when it’s obvious that there are plenty of upmarket people around with the money and tastes to support them.

Curry and an ex-Cabinet Minister

Spent the weekend in London.

We indulged in a curry just off Chiswick High Street. The food was reasonably good. Each dish was actually distinctive in flavour and didn’t appear to have been made by using the “one pot” method of just adding cream/almonds/coconut/sundry spices to a ladleful of curry-ish sauce that forms the basis of all dishes. Maybe, however, that was because we chose the house “specials”, for which the cooks had to make a little more effort.

Our hors d’oeuvres were marred by a slightly posh middle-aged man demanding to know why he was still waiting for his take away when another customer who came into the restaurant after him had already received his order. “I mean”, he ranted, “Did I order something that’s particularly hard to cook?”. The put-upon waiter checked and explained that that particular customer had ordered over the phone quite a while ago. Ranting middle-aged man shut up at that point, but three minutes later rejoindered “Now wait a minute: that’s not true!”. So on it went, spoiling the enjoyment of my lamb tikka and K.’s prawn poori.

I know that there is a good book to be written about the peculiarly British ritual of the visit to the curry house.

Walking back to mum’s place through Chiswick, I was nudged and whispered at conspiratorially by K., who insisted that the small, bearded man carrying a takeway in a paper bag a few yards ahead of us was Robin Cook. I’m still not completely convinced but can’t deny that whoever he was, he did look remarkably similar to Tony Blair’s former Foreign Secretary. This put me in mind of the time I followed Kate Adie, the BBC foreign correspondent as she pushed a trolley around Chiswick’s Sainsbury’s. It’s hard to tell famous people from behind.

I have just remembered that blogs are supposed to have links to cool websites, so here’s a site I visit regularly:

World Wide Words