'With prices going up people are looking for more bang for their buck'

The  Staff Canteen

In this week's episode of Gilled by The Staff Canteen co-host Frances Atkins, chef-owner of paradise cafe, and her guest Elizabeth Carter, editor of The Good Food Guide, discussed industry heroes, scooping bad food into a plastic bag, and much more.

Elizabeth got her start in the industry back in 1987 working for the Egon Ronay Guide, reviewing all sides of hospitality from pubs to hotels and everything in between, even down to cafés. She explained 'it was the most extraordinary grounding in hospitality' even if the food wasn't always the most edible!

'It's not dinner it's an experience’

One notable topic of discussion was the fact that a good meal out was more than just the food, it’s the whole package, as Elizabeth said: “It's how restaurants are run and I think that what we're looking at is not just the food, it's the hospitality; it's the surroundings; it's the buzz.”

“It can be a simple place, with no decor but really really good food - it can even be fish and chips, or it can be a very expensive counter pushing out the boundaries of a meal. Done well it's extraordinary. It's really good fun.”

Frances, on the other hand, said: “For me, it's about food but perhaps my views are too cheffy! I've learnt from Elizabeth that it is the whole package, I just tend to be very food focused."

“I think at the moment the industry is struggling to find the right staff," Elizabeth continued. "And it is throwing the spotlight on service because they've not been able to pick and choose - as you could in the old days - you've got some rather clunky service and it always drags the food down.

“It's very sad and we're all making allowances, but I think that restaurants have got to up their training. I know it's hard, it's a tough business, but with prices going up people are looking for more bang for their buck. So, they are looking for the all-round experience, which is great service; great food, and great atmosphere.”

Frances added: "You spend time and energy on training a novice and then they leave, and you have to start all over again.  I think that presents the difficulty and also the more recognition a good restaurant will get, the more the expectance level there is from the guest.

“So, really we're in a tough corner. We haven't got an excuse really; we just have to make sure we get it right.”

Elizabeth said: “I always say ‘it's not dinner it's an experience,’ you're paying for an evening's entertainment, you're paying for something that you'll remember for a very long time. That is down to the chef and their vision and their sheer genius really.”

Food Bloggers and what it takes to be a critic

What is the difference between a professional critic and a food blogger? Elizabeth believes it takes time to establish yourself and for people to accept that you know what you are talking about. Time, that most food bloggers can’t afford.

“I think with a blogger, they don't last long. If you think about the bloggers that were around 10 years ago, they're not around now. 

“It's a very expensive business eating out. I'm very lucky to work for a company that funds eating out and I eat out on expenses - I spend my own money as well - but to be a good blogger it would cost a fortune; you'd have to be very wealthy to maintain it.”

Because of this it is just not possible for a food blogger to, in Elizabeth’s opinion, reach the level of a professional critic unless they already have a great deal of money behind them.

Changing the scoring system

The Good Food Guide went through a change due to the pandemic, it was bought by Code Hospitality and it went digital with the launch of its app, it changed its scoring system from an 'out of ten' rating to the new system.

“The team had wanted to change the scores for a long time. Everybody wants to be seven, eight, nine, ten, nobody wants to be one, two, or three. Even though there were only ever 1200 restaurants in the guide and to be included was to be considered one of the best restaurants in the country.

“But it was not a good system. It worked at the top; it didn't work at the bottom.”

However, she was clear that the new system wasn’t entirely perfect, saying: “It's still, I have to say a work in progress. I have had very good feedback on it. I really like it. I think that we'll be revising it again in September, but I think on the whole it's a fairer system.

“It's just that little bit of rating to say, 'if you're in the area you go here' or at another level, 'make an effort to go here.' That's how the system works. Then it's singling out the exceptional places.”

This way all the restaurants are treated at the level they deserve, whilst also still allowing people to differentiate which are the best of the best. It means that those lower on the list aren’t considered bad because none of them ever were.

Along with this, the guide is trying to expand outside of just rating restaurants into being more informative so telling people, if the restaurant is child- and/or dog-friendly as well as if it plays loud music. In the hopes of helping readers select the best restaurant for them rather than just assuming the best rated will be the best.

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The  Staff Canteen

The Staff Canteen

Editor 28th July 2022

'With prices going up people are looking for more bang for their buck'