Working at a foodservice agency has a lot of perks. Eating our regularly is just one of them. But eating out has changed considerably over the past few years. Consumer demand for Asian cuisine, home delivered food, vegetarian and vegan options, all-day eating, allergen free foods, quick but healthy options and even ‘instagram ready’ dishes are shifting the eating out landscape.

With all of these demands and many more being met by savvy operators – research available from our foodservice agency shows the number of UK adults eating out has increased by 0.5% in the last year, with breakfast proving to be the biggest winner, seeing a 5% increase in the average number of visits per person*.

The UK eating out market is forecast to hit £92.3bn in 2020*, and as important as the factors above are for consumers, the clincher for me when eating out is something else entirely. All of those demands could be met and still I could have the taste of disappointment left in my mouth. Why? Because for me, and many others I am sure, it’s the experience that makes it, not just the food – something that was highlighted well by Square Meal’s Ultimate Dining Experience report commissioned for Hotelympia 2018.

Whether it’s a local pub, a café or a restaurant, it really is the little things that matter. If we choose to eat out, we naturally expect good food (even if we don’t always get it). What makes us go out again and again, is that good food coupled with a good experience. Be it the service, the atmosphere or the facilities.

First class waiter service, friendly conversations with the staff, the added little touches such as a well-selected table or a refilled water jug – it all contributes towards the memory, and the memory triggers repeat visits, word of mouth recommendations and sometimes even online recommendations. People are quick to jump on Twitter or Trip Advisor for a bad review, as a channel to vent their frustration, but equally we should feel just as compelled to share the good stuff. If we rate it highly and want other people to enjoy good times, we must share the positive experiences too.

Great service has the transformative power of making an average meal amazing. On the other hand, terrible service can overpower any food, no matter how beautifully presented and delicious it may be.

When I think back to the places I have eaten out in over the last few months, there are a few that stand out; for very different reasons.

For example, a night out with friends in Exeter recently was made all the more memorable by a visit to Circa 1924. The food and the wine were second to none, but the front of house team is what truly made it a night to remember. We were greeted at the door, shown upstairs to the bar for pre-dinner cocktails and collected when our table was ready. We were then served by a waiter that not only knew his menu inside and out, but was happy to make recommendations on the wine and accompaniments, and even happier to have a laugh and a joke with us during the course of the evening.

The West Country gets another thumbs up from me too. A few months back we chanced upon a little gem called Café Alf Resco in Dartmouth following a very chilly coastal walk and it turned out to be the perfect pit-stop for a warming cuppa and cake. We were able to sit outside (with the dog) and enjoy the fairy lights, heat lamps and blankets supplied, while the friendly staff brought out beautifully presented, handmade cakes and hot drinks. One to revisit if ever I find myself in Dartmouth again.

On the flip-side, a recent visit to Brighton on a beautifully sunny day brought with it a disappointing interlude at the i360 restaurant. Despite there being a number of staff on duty and very few customers sitting at tables (which I had put down to the late afternoon timing but am now not so sure), we were seated by one person, given menus by a second, had our order taken by a third and then were left, without drinks or any communication for 20 minutes. Once we had chased the drinks up, we sat lapping up the sunshine and sipping our cool drinks, waiting for our food. Another 30 minutes later with nothing arriving at our table, we chased the food order, where a fourth waiter told us they didn’t have our order and asked who we had placed the order with.

Its experiences like this that make me sad for the lost opportunities within the hospitality industry. A prime seafront location, a full team of staff and a beautiful day should have resulted in a full terrace, a busy kitchen and a happy team – sadly not.
I understand that it is a difficult job and, as a waiter, you can’t control every element of the dining experience, even though you are ultimately the face of it. That said, I have been there myself and quickly learned that staff members who are friendly and knowledgeable, communicative and honest, are the ones who get less grief, more smiles and more tips. If you can’t find the sunshine, BE the sunshine – that way everyone gets to sit in the sun for a while.

*Menu and Food Trends Report 2018, MCA Eating Out Market Report 2017

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