Over the course of last weekend, MrF and I, along with the kids, ended up eating out at two very different venues. The first: an upmarket gastropub in an Oxfordshire village, with waiters and waitresses in neat monochrome uniforms. The second: a humble little Turkish café on a busy road in the heart of Oxford. The food at the gastropub was expensive, under seasoned and under flavoured; while the food at the cafe was unbelievably tasty, at about half the price. This led to a discussion about the big V – value, not just value for money, but perceived value.
I’ve read chef’s reactions to customer complaints that their food was overpriced, most argue that the customer has not understood the cost of the ingredients, the cost of running a restaurant, of employing the calibre of staff required, yada, yada.
I understand where the chef is coming from, but, as a customer, value for me is all about enjoyment – the more I pay, the better I expect it to be, and the more I want to enjoy it. And not just the food, the entire experience.
It’s all very well buying in the best cuts of steak, from a cow reared on champagne and massaged by virgins on a remote island, but if you can’t cook it properly and don’t know how to prepare it, or what to serve with it, then it’s a bit of a waste of time. One of the best dishes I ever ate was while on honeymoon in Thailand – a Wagyu steak, served up with truffle mash and foie gras sauce. We paid a fortune for it but it was out of this world, with service and wine to match.
What really impresses me though, is a chef with the skill and humility to serve up a plate of food using cheap cuts of meat, which knocks my socks off with flavour. A now well-known local ‘steak platter’ using hanger steak, served up with simple seasonal veg, amazing fries and béarnaise sauce, with enough to feed three people for £25 – awesome! Or more recently, grilled layers of kofte, lamb and chicken presented on crispy bread cubes and served with an intensely flavoured tomato sauce and yoghurt, for under a tenner, plus free bread and houmous to start – yes please!
These are the dishes that wow me and have me running back for more. This is what value for money is all about.
We customers aren’t all that thick you see, we roughly know what food costs (we often buy it ourselves to cook at home don’t you know), and we understand you have big overheads – all those fancy napkins and slate tiles don’t come cheap. But, if you’re going to charge a premium, you have to make sure every plate of food you serve is premium… if not, well, don’t come running to me when someone says you’re restaurant is ‘overpriced’.