'We're going to be doing the same thing - but better'

The  Staff Canteen

When lockdown struck, James Close, the two Michelin-starred chef and co-owner of The Raby Hunt, moved out of his rental home and into the restaurant with rooms. 

Soon it will be time for James and his partner Maria to move out, to fit the restaurant with everything it needs to be safe for the team and their guests to return. 

"I can't wait, honestly," he said.

Same same but better

With a launch date set for July 29th, this gives them time to refurbish the restaurant, train staff on safety procedures, and ensure that their suppliers have time to get the high standard of ingredients they expect. But from the moment the restaurant closed its doors, James made a commitment. 

"We're going to be doing the same thing - but better" he said. 

Whereas the coronavirus has left many in the industry resorting to a delivery model, this wasn't workable at The Raby Hunt, not only given its geographical location, but because, in James' words, "I'm too uptight."

"I just couldn't deal with putting food in a box and sending it around the country worried about the standard it arrives in. It's just not my style." 

And so, the chef used the time to work on his food, reading books, developing dishes and putting together a plan. 

"I've probably developed more in these three months as a chef than I have in the last three years," he said. 

"We've got more identity coming back, we know what we're trying to achieve with the menu and what sets us apart." 

A life worth a living 

While some restaurants have plans to slash their prices and reduce their menu sizes, this doesn't match up with the chef's vision for The Raby Hunt. 

"People want to pay for something which blows them away," he said. 

"If we were to cut the cost of the menu and go for a half price menu, we wouldn't have anyone dining with us within about six months." 

"We have to go the other way."

With costs associated with Covid-19 safety - new tables, equipment, training for the staff - he said: "You can't drop the price."

Plus, if too many people reduce their menu prices in the industry, it will be a race to the bottom and all restaurants will lose out. 

He explained: "In my eyes, we have to offer a better experience and price the right amount for what we're offering.

"If we were a two-star restaurant and we suddenly decided: ‘that's it, we're going to go 6 course menu at £110’ - it's just pointless. No-one is going to come. They come here because of what the experience is. We have to be price confident."

For James, the high cost of working in hospitality - the mental strain, the personal sacrifices - shouldn't just be enjoyed for the sake of passion. 

"We all have to come together and start making a living - we're never going to make millions but we do have to have some sort of a standard." 

What will Michelin do?

The question of what the guides will do in light of the pandemic is probably a weight on the minds of many restaurateurs up and down the country.

James, whose two Michelin stars are a testament to his ability to meet the tyre company’s rigorous standards, trusts itsability to locate and aptly judge the country's best restaurants. 

He believes that the guide will make the right decision as to how to proceed this year, given how many restaurants have had to switch up their business model to continue existing, with some even taking the decision to remain closed until the landscape is more stable. 

He said: "I think we're in a position where we shouldn't be worried - because as a restaurateur, you do get a big of anxiety about it." 

"The Michelin Guide is the best guide by far. They seem to know what they're doing all the time, they make the right decisions." 

Will customers come back?

While for some now is undoubtedly a daunting time, the chef is set on his team's ability to come back stronger than ever. 

"Yes people are going to be cautious when they come out, but life goes on, and as long as we do everything the government's outlined and take as many precautions as we can to give a safe, better dining experience, hopefully we'll see hospitality going from strength to strength." 

Another thing that gives the chef reason to be optimistic is the fact that British holidaymakers will mostly remain on home soil this summer. 

"If we can do one thing this year, it's to go and eat at your local restaurant a couple of times and just show some appreciation." 

The Raby Hunt will reopen on Wednesday 29th July. Reservations are now open. 

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The  Staff Canteen

The Staff Canteen

Editor 26th June 2020

'We're going to be doing the same thing - but better'