There’s always next year!

Sorry, folks! We missed it! There is absolutely no excuse except that of not paying attention. Sunday July 21st just slipped by and the opportunity to celebrate National Ice Cream Day has been missed. But, there’s always next year to look forward to – to study what your and your friend’s preferences are. Because it appears that the ice cream you like can reveal what type of person you are. Yes, ice cream can betray your personality. It’s a much more civilised method of revealing things than swilling some tea leaves around the bottom of a cup. Tastier too!

Image: Gabriel

Image: Gabriel

What wasn’t missed, though, was Tom Kerridge being crowned the winner of the best restaurant in the 2013 National Restaurant Awards race. The awards recognize the best 100 places to eat out at in the UK. They get 150 industry experts to go and judge and then cast votes. The full list of awards is a who’s who of the culinary world in the UK with some famous names featured and some special awards too. But spare a thought for the bloke who had to cater for that prizegiving event. Was he nominated?

As an aside, and not taking anything away from Tom’s award for his Hand & Flowers pub-restaurant, one wonders what makes a person the “industry expert” that they send out to test the culinary talents of each nominee. Is it a person who is a celebrity in the food world, like Matthew Fort, or is he too recognizable and would send the restaurant into a spin if he walked in? Or someone like Mike Berry, who reported on Tom’s win? Either way, it would be nice to get a phone call someday and be asked, “could you please visit this list of restaurants and have a main and a dessert, fill out a score sheet for us, and we’ll pick up the tab. But we want an honest opinion and we don’t want them to know you’re marking them.” It would be nice …

One of the quirkier trends that has developed is that of presenting a dish that’s not quite what it seems. Heston Blumenthal did this very successfully with his feasts where the guests ate money, tableware and meat disguised as fruit! And recently there have been more of these types of presentations from other chefs designed to fool the diner into thinking they are going to be getting one thing but the reality is totally different.

Baker Louise Caola seems to be following Heston’s lead, and pretty good her creations look too. Her stocktaker would need to be kept in the picture though. It wouldn’t do to have them counting and costing a couple of joints of beef when in fact they’re just decorated cakes. That could throw the whole profit margin out. Another challenge for Jon Rutter and his teams: make sure that what’s in the store is what it really is – it must be a nightmare round at Heston or Louise’s place.

And the character that ice cream reveals? Tom Kerridge might fancy the chocolate-chip-cookie-dough (competitive), while Heston and Louise the chocolate, to go with their dramatic presentations. Stocktakers? Probably the rainbow sherbet – analytic!

Parking off at the palace …

Image: Wynand van Niekerk

Image: Wynand van Niekerk

The Premier Parking Solutions MD must have either read our blog of 5 June or he visits the Queen Victoria in Essex. The Queen Vic. Decided to make sure that their regulars had parking available by charging non-customers for using their parking area. But now Barrie Douglass (from Premier Parking) has decided to think laterally and he sees this as a solution to help struggling pubs. How? Charge the customers to park and thereby increase the pub’s income.

The only problem, Barrie, is that if I had saved my hard earned dosh for a couple of pints down at my local and then they wanted to charge me on top of the price of my tipple, I would have a sense of humour failure and probably walk there (so you’d lose my extra money anyway) or I’d go somewhere else and you’d lose my custom altogether. I don’t think it will really “help” the pubs. Go and read again what the Queen Vic. did – they decided to HELP their customers, not make them pay more.

In fairness to Barrie, he did suggest that the price of the parking could possibly be redeemed over the counter for a drink. This is something that stocktakers can implement after consultation with their clients. It seems that for Jon and his Stocktaking team there are always variables and changes they need to be making publicans aware of. They can’t sit still, which is a good thing as it ensures that their customers stay on track of being profitable and at the same time delivering good service and product to their patrons. A win-win situation. Who’d have thought a few years ago that “parking” would be a factor in a pub’s profitability equation?

And on the subject of profitability, we all moan at prices going up. But when they come down? It appears that there are moans too. And suspicion. Maybe the infamous Marmite advert has had an effect and more are being re-homed. Or maybe, as some suspect, it is a way to get rid of the glass bottles and introduce squeezy ones – in any event, the price of Marmite has plunged 30%! Marmite lovers are wondering whether they’re getting rid of “old stock” (does Marmite go off?) or is it a price war in the making. One question no one seems to have posed is why wasn’t it 30% cheaper ages ago? What type of profit margin were they making for all those years? Anyway, at that price you might as well stock up. It will be interesting to see what spin the Marmite PR machine puts on this development.

Image: Jennifer Smith

Image: Jennifer Smith

No PR firm could have done anything for the Met. this last week when it emerged that HRH Prince Andrew was accosted having a stroll in his mum’s garden. If he’d had a few corgis with him he might have been more recognizable. Or, as The Sun displayed, if the coppers on duty had been given a “who’s who” crib sheet. A bit like the way a new employee goes through an orientation programme when joining a large company … “this is our CEO (showing picture) her name is …

… coming to a restaurant near you, test tube meat!

If you were to ask someone which football team they supported, their answer might surprise or even infuriate you. “How can you support Liverpool if you’re just down the road from Old Trafford?” you might ask. And if their team was not the same as yours, much of your conversation would be trying to convince each other why they should switch allegiances – and neither of you would win THAT battle. What is it about loyalty to teams or individuals that drive us so much? Why do some punters follow the trainer (regardless of the horse he has running) while others put their cash on the jockey irrespective of the beast he happens to be sitting on?

Usain Bolt nailed his colours firmly to the mast when he pleaded with Prince William not to let young George grow up in a Villa shirt. Too late, Usain, Villa had already sent the gift, with “HRH 1” embroidered on the shirt! And that leads to the next questions, why does the Queen support Arsenal, or Prince Charles, Burnley?

Image: Bev Lussier

Image: Bev Lussier

Jon Rutter’s team of stocktakers can also tell of the times they have been asked the same questions by their customers while they’re in the middle of working on some detailed formulae to help improve their GP, when out the blue the casual remark is thrown out, “so, who’re you supporting on Saturday?” But any good stocktaker worth their salt has developed the knack of knowing their client’s preferences beforehand and can hold that type of sports-talk conversation without coming to blows about team colours.

It could also be said that supporter’s preferences extend to pubs and restaurants for the same reasons – “how can you possibly drink light ale when you know lager is best!” Or, “you ALWAYS have the cheese burger and then ice cream … why don’t you at least try the scallops? They’re ALWAYS delicious every time I have them.” 

But those who love their hamburgers may be in for a shock in years to come, as apart from the price increase, the composition of the patty might put them off. In fact, those who choose some types of seafood might also blanch a little as they discover that what’s on their plate is the same as on ‘burger lover’s’ plate too. If science continues to make giant strides into the area of engineered foods, we could all be eating the same stuff … just dressed up a bit differently with a bit of garnish and an olive (if they’re still around) to ensure that they are served as separately named choices on the menu.

Artificially grown meat, or fish or poultry will be available if the Dutch (bless them) have their way. The mind boggles at what some poor stocktaker will make of that scenario when they try to plan for the local restaurant owner – “you’ll need 24 tins of ArtiProtein for next week, mate, that’ll keep your 36 item menu going. Your customers will be spoiled for choice!”

At least we’ll still have our football teams that we could argue about.