So you want to be a chef … how’s your algebra?

Everyone’s had the experience of ordering a dish at one restaurant and then they compared it to the same type of dish when it was served to them at a different place. It’s natural to compare. And the comparison is usually the “cost vs size” one. “Well, we paid £3.75 at The Greasy Spoon and got a much bigger burger there.” There are so many factors that govern what each eatery serves: for instance, be prepared to pay more in the centre of London than in some rural village because the rent is higher in London. And guess who coughs up for the rent? The customers.

Also, any restaurant or pub owner will tell you that when they serve a meal it must comply to certain other criteria – and I’m not referring to the quality or the freshness of the produce, that’s a “given.” We also all know that each dish should look the same so that if 2 burgers are ordered at the same table, it doesn’t appear that one person is getting a ham burger and the other a ham sandwich!

The specific criteria I’m referring to is portion size. The burger patties must both be the same, the amount of chips must be the same, the number of tomato slices etc etc. You get the drift. And there’s a very good reason for this that Jon Rutter and his stocktaking team will tell you about. It has to do with being cost effective, competitive and staying in business. So when it comes to planning what to serve the customer it’s not a hit and miss affair. The publican doesn’t sit down with the Missus at the start of the week and say, “what do we serve this week? I know we’ll run a special on the Full English at a discounted price and chuck in a free pot of tea for the table.” That type of planning will ensure the place won’t last very long. No, it’s really quite scientific how the stocktakers and their customers work things out.

But what a lot of folk didn’t know was that it seems to be highly mathematical too. Take the traditional cream tea as an example. Dr Eugenia Cheng of Sheffield University has devised a mathematical formula that will ensure the perfect cream tea is put in front of the customer. Now if you pop behind the scenes in many restaurants there are some lovely photos of what the various dishes should look like and what they should contain – but Dr Cheng has taken this “guideline” business to even higher levels. The problem might be that your chef had better know their algebra or be handy with a calculator.

Roast beef & Yorkshire pudding - algebra style?

Roast beef & Yorkshire pudding – algebra style?

The beauty of this mathematical method is that you could create the perfect cream tea anywhere in the country just by following the formula. In fact, anyone can do it which might be bad news for the cream tea business in general. What if everyone started using their previously forgotten maths principles and made the perfect serving in their own home? But that thinking takes us back to some previous thoughts we had on why we eat out, so there’s no danger there to the scone industry. If Dr Cheng is right, one wonders if there could be a new subject taught at chef school that brings certain dishes into the arena of formulae and calculation – not so much for the sake of cost effectiveness but merely for taste and appearance.

This hospitality business is a lot more complicated than the customers realize. When that roast beef and Yorkshire lands in front of me in future I won’t be able to resist wondering how much algebra went in to the making of my lunch.

My name is “Grunge,” I’ll be your waiter today …

Times have changed. A trend has emerged that makes things a little more complicated than previously – I am referring, among other things to the names that people use. Generally people have named their children pretty much as they’ve seen fit – sometimes after family members, friends and even, dare I mention it, old flames.

But the way society has changed over the years seems to have made even this personal task of naming your child an “open debate” that could potentially cause problems previously never anticipated. 77-Year old Mrs Levy found herself “censored” by M & S the other day when she tried to buy an electronic birthday card for her friend from their website. This tech-savvy lady hadn’t thought that her friend’s name, Dick, was a ban-able offence. But in the interests of “avoiding the system being used to harass by containing profanity” they banned her.

In fact, some countries have even gone so far as to disallow certain names from being registered. This is understandable in the case of some names that are patently ridiculous, like “Talula Does The hula From Hawaii” but I suppose people want to name their children something different to the norm, something people will remember and something unique. It just seems that names that have been around for a long time seem to cause officious people to take it on themselves to make judgement calls in case others might, possibly, take offence to them and rule accordingly. Where were these people when Frank Zappa named his children Dweezil and Moon Unit in 1967?

Photo by Graham

Photo by Graham

But might the implications of causing offence-via-names in the hospitality industry be another problem that could make publicans and restaurateurs scratch their heads. What if there’s an M & S official nearby? And even though the team from Rutters help landlords plan and explore all the avenues and alternatives to ensure their customers operate efficiently and effectively, this one is probably outside their brief. One wonders how many staff will reconsider what name to go by now that Mrs Levy was flagged as “possibly causing offence” in order to be accepted for a position.

Jon Rutter might have to break out the thesaurus to pass on to his customers if this naming controversy continues. And it’s not only the names of people – what about some of the names that dishes have (like spotted dick – I don’t fancy ordering the dotted-Richard dessert), or names of roads and pubs and places of interest. Somehow “Archers Way” doesn’t have the same ring to it as the original “Butt Hole Road” (named after the communal water butt originally in the area), but the residents are comfortable with it. Or the strange or mis-named pubs, like The Jolly Taxpayer (with an emblem that looks like a banker).

One wag suggested that as those who were offended are in the minority,  that they would soon get over themselves. The rest of the crowd would just continue to enjoy themselves and the names that they’ve  all grown up with (tell Mrs Levy’s friend, Dick, that – unfortunately he had to settle for a card via hard copy). My great-aunt Fanny thinks it’s all a lot of nonsense!

Planning: the art of being a good tourist (or publican)

People in Manchester were a bit bleak this last week. Either about the news that Sir Alex was calling it a day at Old Trafford, or because City were blown out of the competition by Wigan. And Mancini loyalists were also hit with the news of his departure. Rumour has it that the Chairman said, “I don’t know what we’d do without you, Roberto, but from tomorrow we’re going to find out!”

The team from Rutters will probably testify to having to help their customers plan for either the celebrations or the mourning – depending on which part of the city they covered. One wonders what sort of memorabilia will become available now that Sir Alex has moved on and what items will be worth hanging on to … those old photos of the dugout taken of some argument he had with a ref or when players got switched might start to be worth something as time goes on. Especially if there are any signed programmes or shirts hanging about. Hopefully there won’t be any rip-offs offered to visitors who travel to see the Theatre of Dreams. You know, those fast talking types that accost people before they get near the real place. Those ones “letting you in on a bargain,” as often happens to tourists.

One tourist, Mr Bannister (he wasn’t from Manchester but from Birmingham), got ripped off in Italy the other day. He decided to treat himself and his party to the experience of gelato in Rome. He was a miffed when the bill came to £13.50 each. He felt that a total of £57.00 was a bit much for a cold snack for four people. The question is always, why do people always take advantage of tourists? Do the locals pay the same as the tourists? Of course they don’t, they’re not stupid. So by implication, tourists are stupid! No, just uneducated. Uneducated as to where to get the best deals. Like which pub to visit to get great food at fair rates. Or how to buy the genuine “Man U” kit at the best prices – not from the hustlers over the road from Old Trafford.

One wonders why people going on holiday don’t do some homework before they reach their destination. Much the same way that landlords use their stocktakers to explore all the avenues and alternatives open to them. It just makes sense when you’re on a budget, to get the most out of your hard earned cash. Granted, some budgets are more than others, but a budget nevertheless.

Large & small gelato – bought in Rome last week for non-tourist prices

Large & small gelato – bought in Rome last week for non-tourist prices

Take the gelato in Rome, for instance. Poor Mr Bannister and his family shelled out 57 quid, while in the same city other tourists paid 10 (that’s £8.50) for the same thing, or €1.50 (£1.27) for a small version. And they were able to do this because they had taken some trouble to do some planning and research before travelling. But on top of that – they asked the locals. Instead of just being a “tourist,” they embraced the experience and talked to the people who live there. Asked questions. Found out about them and they lives they live.

So when the friendly people of Manchester chat to visitors to their city, and show them around, they’ll get to see the haunts that the locals frequent (depending on which club supporter they’re talking to). The “Del Boy’s” of this world won’t thank them though, they’ll still be on the lookout for the uneducated ones.

Politics? I’d rather run a pub, thanks!

Nowadays it’s unusual to see any public figure (other than sportsmen) actively promote products or services. The rationale being that it may be taken as showing favouritism, or endorsing, or (perish the thought) advertising. Of course the press will happily inform their readers that the Duchess of Cambridge has “… chosen to wear a dress from Alexander McQueen with footwear from LK Bennett …” but you don’t see Kate turning to the cameras, pointing to the shoes and mouthing “LK Bennett” do you?

So it must have been a huge encouragement to the Shepherd Neame campaign this past week to have their product being given so much prominence on national networks when Nigel Farage openly endorsed his favourite ale, Spitfire. The much talked about politician who caused such an upset in the local elections was given a lot more coverage than even he anticipated. Certainly the likes of “Call me Dave,” “Ed” and “Cleggy” were probably rueing the fact that they hadn’t been quite so open and frank about their beverage of choice in the past – or maybe the cameras just weren’t on them much. In any case, the scrambling that Shepherd Neame had been doing to boost their sales since March was certainly given a shot in the arm that even comedians Armstrong & Miller couldn’t predict.


After all that happened last week it may seem to some that politics is a bit like running a pub. You have locals (the electorate) who you want in your pub (the party) and get them to spend their money (votes). You do all types of things to entice them in to your place – specials, 2-4-1’s, theme dinners etc. And even though you might have a pretty full place at times, they don’t all buy what you have on offer. And, like politics, to know what to stock and how to make your place profitable, you need the help of professional specialists in the field. Rutters specialize in making their clients the best they can be with strategies, advice and feedback. Successful establishments, like any of the Greene King or the Golden Lion Groups use the services of professionals, like Jon Rutter and his team, to ensure their continued success.

If any of the leaders of the “main” parties popped in to any successful pub and had a quiet word with the landlord, they’d probably be told how the landlord stays on top of things and how he works with his professional advisers. But of course getting the advice and acting on it are two different things. You can take a horse to water … well, you know the rest.

It wouldn’t be at all surprising for publicans to notice an upswing in the orders of “I’ll have a Spitfire, please …” as the new councillors pop down to their local to celebrate their positions on local boards (you’d also probably find that many of them had already had a quiet word with the landlord before the elections, but they seem to have actually followed his advice).

I don’t want to complain, but …

These days it seems that everyone has something to complain about. Whether it’s the Government, the NHS or the way children behave towards their elders, there will be some issue you’ll pick up on when listening to people chat. And some of the moans might seem quite legitimate to the “moan-er” but trivial to the “moan-ee.”

So, can you imagine what your reaction would be if someone walked up to you and said, “I don’t like the colour of your house. So you’d better change it!” Well that’s exactly what happened to Ann and Mark Kennedy when they decided to spruce up their listed cottage with the same colour paint it has been for at least the last 12 years. The new coat of paint was, well … too pink! That is what new paint does, it isn’t the faded version. Now, there can be a whole debate on whether the colour is appropriate to the era, whether it breaches the Listed Building Consent guidelines etc etc – but what this does illustrate is that one complaint (yes, ONE) can throw someone’s best laid plans and intentions into turmoil.

The debate can also revolve around the “officiousness” of some councils and their employees, or of some individuals who think they are above the law – like in the case of the town councillor Angie O’Grady who felt that the Town House in Llandudno should “let her in” after closing time and thereby breach the licensing policy. Possibly the good councillor had had such a good time at bingo she merely wanted to re-live some of the ambience, but the Public Services Ombudsman (yes, it got THAT far) found that she “had used her position to attempt to gain an advantage for herself.”

As some are so quick to tell us, there are lessons that can be learned. How to complain and how to handle complaints are paramount. There is even advice out there on how to deal with complaints about noise – which is pretty useful if you have a local troubadour in once a week. Doing things the right way will go a long way towards getting a gripe attended to in an amicable way. The recipient of a gripe, by handling things correctly, could retain a customer or even create a loyalty that wasn’t present before. This is particularly applicable to those in the hospitality industry (that business of the feeding, watering and housing of guests).

Sea dog

With so many different tastes, preferences and foibles a host has to consider, he’d be forgiven for throwing his hands in the air at some point and wondering if it was all worth the effort. But successful businesses will confirm what Jon Rutter and his team of stocktakers will also confirm – that with careful planning, doing things the right way and with conscientious attention to detail, dealing with any gripes becomes an opportunity not a discouragement. Apart from the nuts and bolts of ensuring there is enough beer in the cellar, Rutters team members who know their local area will also give whatever feedback that landlords need in order to stay successful, and possibly also on the good side of the local residents.

Who knows, they might even comment on the colour you painted the building, or the quality of your ornaments displayed on your shelves. Unfortunately, there will always be something someone doesn’t like – hopefully, if it is the ornaments, they won’t start chucking the Toby Jugs around. People can be interesting, but some are just not happy unless they’re miserable.