We look at a lot of menus here at simpleERB HQ. Sometimes it’s because we’re hungry, sometimes it’s because we’re interested in what our users serve in their restaurants, mostly it’s because we like good food. Looking at menus, you quite often get a feel for what trends are doing the rounds but one thing that we’ve seen more than anything else over the last few years, are menus telling you exactly where your food came from.

This is no bad thing. In a society where we are much more informed about the world we live and eat in, it’s good to know the name of the farmer who supplied your asparagus or the farm which provided the Aberdeen Angus steak. Do we really know where the actual ingredient came from in the first place though? We know that the radish on your plate (yes, THAT actual radish) came from a producer in nearby Gascony but was the radish always indigenous to this region? Did someone bring it from somewhere else? Have the Italians always had an affinity with the tomato, or did they come from South America?

map-origin-crops

Luckily, people much smarter than us, have created an interactive map showing the origins of many of our favourite foods so we can now while away the hours looking at yet another map whilst being amazed that we hadn’t heard of the cow pea until now!



We all know how restaurant design can influence diners ’ eating habits.

Now research  reported in  New Scientist* has uncovered a wealth of information on how much factors such as lighting, windows and the size and shape of a wine glass can affect how much a customer eats and drinks.

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From visiting 27 restaurants across the USA, mapping the layout of each one and tracking what each customer ordered, the following surprising facts emerged.

  • Customers who sat by a window or in a well lit part of the restaurant ordered healthier food than those sitting in a dark table or booth.
  • A table of four sitting within two tables of the bar drank an average of three more beers or alcoholic drinks with a mixer than those sitting just one table further away.
  • The closer a table was to a tv screen, the more fried food a person bought.
  • People sitting at high top bar tables ordered more salads and fewer desserts.

Alcohol influences on diners

It wasn’t just eating that was influenced by environmental factors.

The New Scientist brought 85 wine drinkers into their lab, gave them different sized glasses and told them to either sit or stand.

Their observation showed:

  • People pour 12% less wine into taller glasses than into wider glasses that hold the same amount.
  • Looking down at a glass makes it appear more full than looking at it from roughly the same level as the liquid. As a result, the wine drinkers poured 12% less into a glass that was sitting in a table compared to one they were holding.
  • Because red wine is easier to see than white wine, the drinkers poured 9% less red wine into whatever glass they were holding.

It’s not just wine these observations apply to. A separate study of 86 bartenders in Philadelphia, who were asked to pour the amount of alcohol they would use to make a gin and tonic, a whisky on the rocks, a rum and coke and a vodka tonic. Whether they had worked as bartenders for 32 years or 32 minutes, they poured on average 32% more alcohol into short, wide tumblers than into high glasses of the same volume.

Conclusion

So what can be learned from this study? Should all restaurateurs dim the lights, put a bar on every wall and only serve alcohol in high glasses?

Of course not. Particularly when it comes to restaurant decor where a huge range of factors must be considered.

But it’s a fascinating insight into how even if a customer arrives at the restaurant with the best of intentions, a dark corner booth or an wide inviting glass may tempt them into thinking otherwise.

* Research by Brian Wansink of the Cornell University Food and Brand Lab at Cornell University, Ithaca, New York.



Fancy making a mint? Try handing out some mints.

Let us backtrack. A study published in the Journal of Applied Social Psychology found waiters increased their tips by 23% just by offering their customers mints after the meal.

What relevance does this have for customer service for online businesses?

Let’s take a look at the experiment and explore it a little further.

Making a mint

In the study, researchers tested the effects mints had against a control group (where no mints were given) in order to measure their effectiveness in increasing tips.

The first group studied had waiters giving mints along with the check, making no mention of the mints themselves. This increased tips by around 3% against the control group.

The second group had waiters bring out two mints by hand (separate from the check), and they mentioned them to the table (ie, “Would anyone like some mints before they leave?”). This saw tips increase by about 14% against the control group.

The last group had the most dramatic result. They had waiters bring out the check first along with a few mints. A short time afterward, the waiter came back with another set of mints, and let customers know that they had brought out more mints, in case they wanted another. This saw a 21% increase in tips versus the control group.

Interesting. So how can this study be applied to customer service for online businesses?

Personalisation

In the last test, the only difference was personalisation – the waiter brought out the second mints after some time had passed and showed genuine concern for the customer “I thought you might like more mints….”

It was the perception the waiter had gone out of his or her way to ensure the  customer satisfaction.

It’s difficult for online businesses to hand out mints. But a similar follow up freebie – perhaps free product training, a free widget or guide or a first time buyer bonus can have the same effect.

It doesn’t have to be anything grand – after all, mints were responsible for the large tip increase.

The aim is to leave your customer on a high note with the clear impression their time and money on your business was spent wisely.



Restaurateurs are known to be wee bit snippy about online reviews.

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The reply function on Trip Advisor has made for some entertaining back and forth spars, with customers complaining of poor restaurant and hotel experiences.

Just look at the restaurant who fined one couple £100 for describing their hotel as a “rotten stinking hovel.”

It’s somewhat understandable. Restauranteurs pour their heart and soul into their business working 14 hours a day, only for some sniffy customer to go online and say their bread roll was too hard.

Which is why a new stance from New York chef and restaurateur Frank Prisinzano is particularly admirable – he has began to post critical reviews of his own restaurants on Instagram.

Honest reviews

Prisinzano leaves what he calls “honest reviews’ on his instagram page every time he dines in one of his four NYC eateries.

Recent snippets include “The pizza was too dry, flat and wafery. WTF??” and “Chicken parm was a hair dry slightly overcooked on the edges because it wasn’t covered in sauce before it went under the broiler” and “ The arugula is being dressed too much and sloppily laid on the plate.”

It’s a bold stance and perhaps PR genius. Prisinzano has gained media attention from the move as well as a reputation as a perfectionist. Customers who dine in his restaurants can rest assured their meals are being adhered to the highest standard.

But what about his poor staff? Mistakes happen, and many Prisinzano points out on his reviews are small ones. Picking on minor niggles from staff who are literally hunched over a hot stove for 10 hours a day can’t be good for morale.

Prisinzano’s response was to emphasise his staff are like his “sons and daughters.” He told firstwefeast.com, “My people have been with me for many many years, most over 10 years. I’m sure they look at this the same way they do when I do it in person—me trying to make us and them better cooks, chefs, waiters, managers etc… I do not rule with fear, I rule with love and constructive criticism. It’s not a public humiliation, it’s us doing what we always do for all to see.”

Transparency

Which is perhaps why Prisinzano is able to carry out this particular experiment; he has a loyal team of staff who trust his motives.

We always encourage transparency in the restaurant industry; it sure makes a nice change from the defensive Tripadvisor sniping.

But if you do decide to follow post negative reviews of your restaurant, we suggest you follow Prisinzano’s lead and it keep it polite and to the point and make sure your staff know they have their best interests at heart.

Don’t substitute headlines for the support and morale of your team.



Restaurant manners and playing with food

This is from PJ O’Rourke’s “Modern Manners”, which is thoroughly recommended by the team at simpleERB.

 

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The table manners you have in a restaurant are very different from those you have in the home of a friend because, in a restaurant, you’re allowed to play with food. If you eat enough expensive meals and drink enough expensive liquor in a restaurant, you’re allowed to do anything. But in the home of a friend, no matter how much you eat and drink, it won’t excuse you for “restoring” a Renoir with potatoes au gratin.

 

 

PLAYING WITH FOOD

 

Playing with food is the main reason that dining in restaurants has become so popular. Playing with food is a psychologically powerful way of attracting attention to yourself. And restaurants are better places to attract attention than friends’ homes are, anyway. You usually know who’s going to be at a friend’s home. But practically anybody could be at a restaurant. If you attract enough attention in a restaurant, maybe a rich, beautiful person will give you money and sex.

Playing with food is easy. There are so many wonderful props right at hand. Breathes there a man with soul so dead that he’s immune to the theatrical possibilities of a plate full of fried calamari? Even bank presidents and Presbyterian ministers have been known to put the tentacle parts up their noses and pretend the garlic bread is Captain Nemo’s submarine, Nautilus. But playing with food must be done exactly right or it will lead to social disaster.

The secret to successful sport with foodstuffs is correct attitude. Playing with food has to be fast, loud, and enthusiastic. You must make your high spirits contagious before anyone has time for second thoughts. Second thoughts always consist of calling the police.

But if your attitude and timing are right, you can put a lettuce-leaf lion’s mane around the neck of your date, hold her at bay with your chair, command her to leap upon the table and rear up on her hind legs, and everyone will think it’s great fun.

Here are some other things you can do:

  • Use steamed mussels as castanets, slip sugar bowls over the toes of your shoes, and do a flamenco dance on your chair.
  • If everyone is having beef dishes, run around the table and try to put the cow back together.
  • Use any roast whole bird as a hand puppet. You can achieve remarkably realistic effects by jamming your thumb and forefinger into the wing sockets. Point out that the bird has lost it’s head, so it has no sense at all, which is why it’s flying around the table squeezing people’s noses.
  • Illustrate Persian Gulf battle strategy on the napkin in someone’s lap. Asparagus spears are capital ships; chunks of bouef bourguignon are air-to-surface missiles, et cetera.
  • Hang a grilled brook trout on the wall like a trophy, or, better, stand on the table and re-enact landing it with an umbrella and shoelace.
  • Gather up veal scallops and have an impromptu game of cards- sauce Milanese is trump.
  • Use a raw oyster to show someone what a French kiss would be like if she’d married a reptile.

 

The list is endless. Let imagination, rather than taste, be your guide.*



Some interesting research has been conducted on the food habits of millennials (i.e. people between 18-30 years old) which has some key takeaways on their restaurant habits.

This study of 2,000 millennials by the United States Potato Board (yes, such a thing exists!) had the following insights into millennials views on dining:

  • Food is a social experience and an opportunity for exploration.
  • They want exciting food that’s natural and unprocessed.
  • When going to a restaurant, they’re looking for value for money above all (Value doesn’t mean cheap; quality and experience contribute to perceived value).
  • They use the Internet to find new restaurants and use online reviews.

Restaurant Hospitality has some further stats and insights into the research and you can see the original research here.



Not a technical post today, but, IMHO, one of the finest pieces of food writing in the English language.

To my knowledge it has never been anthologised. (Let me know if I am wrong!)

It comes from Samuel Beckett’s novel, “More pricks than kicks” and is set in Dublin. Below is an extract. I’ve taken out some of the narrative, but if you want to read it in full, copies of the book are still available from “all good book shops”.

Enjoy.

Ronnie

Gorgonzola

“Lunch to come off at all, was a very nice affair. If his lunch was to be enjoyable, and it could be very enjoyable indeed, he must be left in absolute tranquility to prepare it. But if he were disturbed now, if some brisk tattler were to come bouncing in now with a big idea or a petition, he might just as well not eat at all, for the food would turn to bittemess on his palate or, worse again, taste of nothing. He must be left strictly alone, he must have complete quiet and privacy to prepare the food for his lunch.

The first thing to do was to lock the door. Now nobody could come at him. He deployed an old Herald and smoothed it out on the table. The rather handsome face of McCabe the assassin stared up at him. Then he lit the gas ring and unhooked the square flat toaster, asbestos grill, from its nail and set it precisely on the flame. He found he had to lower the flame. Toast must not on any account be be done too rapidly. For bread to be toasted as it ought, through and through, it must be done on a mild steady flame. Otherwise you only charred the outsides and left the pith as sodden as before. If there was one thing he abominated more than another it was to feel his teeth meet in a bathos of pith and dough. And it was so easy to do the thing properly. So, he thought, having regulated the flow and adjusted the grill, by the time I have the bread cut that will be just right. Now the long barrel loaf came out of its biscuit-tin and had its end evened off on the face of McCabe. Two inexorable drives with the bread saw and a pair of neat rounds of raw bread, the main elements of his meal, lay before him , awaiting his pleasure. The stump of the loaf went back into prison, the crumbs, as though there were no such thing as a sparrow in the wide world, were swept in a fever away, and the slices snatched up and carried to the grill. All these preliminaries were very hasty and impersonal.

It was now that real skill began to be required, it was at this point that the average person began to make a bash of the entire proceedings. He laid his cheek against the soft of the bread, it was spongy and warm, alive. But he would very soon take that plush feel off it, by God but he would very quickly take that fat white look off its face. He lowered the gas a suspicion and plaqued one flabby slab plump down on the glowing fabric, but very pat and precise, so that the whole resembled the Japanese flag. Then on top, there not being room for the two to do evenly side by side, and if you did not do them evenly you might just as well save yourself the trouble of doing them at all, the other round was set to warm. When the first candidate was done, which was only when it was black through and through, it changed places with its comrade, so that now it in its turn lay on top, done to a dead end, black and smoking, waiting till as much could be said of the other.

For the tiller of the field the thing was simple, he had it from his mother. The spots were Cain with his truss of thorns, dispossessed, cursed from the earth, fugitive and vagabond. The moon was that countenance fallen and branded, seared with the first stigma of God’s pity, that an outcast might not die quickly. It was a mix-up in the mind of the tiller, but that did not matter. It had been good enough for his mother, it was good enough for him.

Belacqua on his knees before the flame, poring over the grill, controlled every phase of the broiling. It took time, but if a thing was worth doing at all it was worth doing well, that was a true saying. Long before the end the room was full of smoke and the reek of burning. He switched off the gas, when all that human care and skill could do had been done, and restored the toaster to its nail. This was an act of dilapidation, for it seared a great weal in the paper. This was hooliganism pure and simple. What the hell did he care? Was it his wall? The same hopeless paper had been there fifty years. it was livid with age. It could not be disimproved.

Next a thick paste of Savora, salt and Cayenne on each round, were worked in while the pores were still open with the heat. No butter, God forbid, just a good forment of mustard and salt and pepper on each round. Butter was a blunder, it made the toast soggy. Buttered toast was all right for Senior Fellows and Salvationists, for such as had nothing but false teeth in their heads. It was no good at all to a fairly strong young rose like Belacqua. This meal that he was at such pains to make ready, he would devour it with a sense of rapture and victory, it would be like smiting the sledded Polacks on the ice. He would snap at it with closed eyes, he would gnash it into a pulp, he would vanquish it utterly with his fangs. Then the anguish of pungency, the pang of the spices, as each mouthful died, scorching his palate, bringing tears.

But he was not yet all set, there was yet much to be done. He had burnt his offering, he had not fully dressed it. Yes, he had put the horse behind the tumbrel. He clapped the toasted rounds together, he brought them smartly together like cymbals, they clave the one to the other on the viscid salve of Savora. Then he wrapped them up for the time being in any old sheet of paper. Then he made himself ready for the road.

Now the great thing was to avoid being accosted. To be stopped at this stage and have conversational nuisance committed all over him would be a disaster. His whole being was straining forward towards the joy in store. If he were accosted now he might just as well fling his lunch into the gutter and walk straight back home. Sometimes hunger, more of mind, I need scarcely say, than of body, for this meal amounted to such a frenzy that he would not have hesitated to strike any man rash enough to buttonhole and baulk him, he would have shouldered him out of his path without ceremony. Woe betide the meddler who crossed him when his mind was really set on this meal.

He threaded his way rapidly, his head bowed, through a familiar labyrinth of lanes and suddenly dived into a little family grocery. In the shop they were not surprised. Most days, about this hour, he shot in off the street in this way.

The slab of cheese was prepared. Separated since morning from the piece, it was only waiting for Belacqua to call and take it. Gorgonzola cheese. He knew a man who came from Gorgonzola, his name was Angelo. He had been born in Nice but all his youth had been spent in Gorgonzola. He knew where to look for it. Every day it was there, in the same corner, waiting to he called for. They were very decent obliging people.

He looked sceptically at the cut of cheese. He turned it over on its back to see was the other side any better. The other side was worse. They had laid it better side up, they had practised that little deception. Who shall blame them? He rubbed it. It was sweating. That was something. He stooped and smelt it. A faint fragrance of corruption. What good was that? He didn’t want fragrance, he wasn’t a bloody gourmet, he wanted a good stench. What he wanted was a good green stenching rotten lump of Gorgonzola cheese, alive, and by God he would have it.

He looked fiercely at the grocer.

‘What’s that?’ he demanded.

The grocer writhed.

‘Well?’ demanded Belacqua, he was without fear when roused, ‘is that the best you can do?’

‘In the length and breadth of Dublin’ said the grocer, ‘you won’t find a rottener bit this minute.’

Belacqua was furious. The. impudent dogsbody, for two pins he would assault him.

‘It won’t do’, he cried, ‘do you hear me, it won’t do at all. I won’t have it.’ He ground his teeth.

The grocer, instead of simply washing his hands like Pilate, flung out his arms in a wild crucified gesture of supplication. Sullenly Belacqua undid his packet and slipped the cadaverous tablet of cheese between the hard cold black boards of the toast. He stumped to the door where he whirled round however.

‘You heard me?’ he cried.

‘Sir’, said the grocer. This was not a question, nor yet an expression of acquiescence. The tone in which it was let fall made it quite impossible to know what was in the man’s mind. It was a most ingenious riposte.

‘I tell you’, said Belacqua with great heat, ‘this won’t do at all. If vou can’t do better than this’, he raised the hand that held the packet, ‘I shall be obliged to go for my cheese elsewhere. Do you mark me?’

‘Sir’ said the grocer.

…….

Belacqua drew near to the school, quite happy, for all had gone swimmingly. The lunch had been a noticeable success, it would abide as a standard in his mind. Indeed he could not imagine its ever being superseded. And such a pale soapy piece of cheese to prove so strong! He must only conclude that he had been abusing himself all these years in relating the strength of cheese directly to its greenness. We live and learn, that was a true saying. Also his teeth and jaws had been in heaven, splinters of vanquished toast spraying forth at each gnash. It was like eating glass. His mouth burned and ached with the exploit.”



“….. the lunch described by George Musgrave seventy years earlier in a travel book about Normandy. He watched a couple (on their honeymoon, he thought) on board the river steamer at Rouen consuming a midday meal of soup, fried mackerel, beefsteak, French beans and fried potatoes, an omelette fines herbs, a fricandeau of veal with sorrel, a roast chicken garnished with mushrooms, a hock of ham served upon spinach. There followed an apricot tart, three custards, and an endive salad, which were precursors of a small roast leg of lamb, with chopped onion and nutmeg sprinkled upon it. Then came coffee and two glasses of absinthe, and eau dorée, a Mignon cheese, pears, plums, grapes and cakes. Two bottles of Burgundy and one of Chablis were emptied between eleven and one o’clock.”

From, “French Provincial Cooking” by Elizabeth David. The event would have been about 1870.

It is not only the quantity of the food, but the rhythm of the meal,  that is extraordinary to us today. Have you ever eaten, (or served) such a meal?

Loire steamer



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