Time for chefs to get out of the kitchen?

cartoon chef
I’m a great believer on chefs doing a ‘tour of the tables’ towards the end of service when things have slowed down in the kitchen. So why did I hide in the loo when one chef was approaching my table?

It was many years ago. The meal had been awful. The chef knew I was there. I couldn’t think of anything neutral to say (I never said one thing in person and the opposite in print) so I scarpered for what must have been the longest wee in history. My wife wasn’t best pleased.

But when did you last see a chef glad handing around the tables? It is a courtesy which, if not often performed that much over the years, is done so even less now. But as so often with the hospitality industry, a little gesture which doesn’t cost anything reaps dividends in customer goodwill.

I often had chefs come to my table but it was a special trip because I had a notebook and a review would follow in The Star. Both of us wanted to get our facts right. But when I asked if they made a tour of the tables on a regular basis few did.

Some were too shy. Others had little small talk. Some said it was a waste of time because diners, being British, didn’t say what they thought. “I let my food do the talking,” said one. Another pointed out, reasonably, that chatting to customers is the province of the front of house team.

But it can’t do any harm, can it? And the classier the restaurant, the more people will want to see the chef. Foodies may have a genuine question they’d like to ask, not easily relayed via a third party. And we’re all snobs and social climbers to a degree. People, being people, like to drop into conversations later phrases such as “As chef so-and-so said to me . . .” indicating they could afford to eat at Restaurant Swanky or whatever.

And any chef worth his or her kitchen salt can use the occasion to see who their customers are, rather than peering through the kitchen door, and pick up on the little nuances of conversation on what customers like or dislike. The presence of the kitchen captain also backs up what the front of house should be doing, expressing pleasure that customers are dining with them tonight.

It doesn’t have to be high end chefs who do this (and very often isn’t). One of the best I saw was Italian Pepe Scime of Pepe’s (now Vitos) of South Road, Walkley, a born performer who regularly toured the tables with a laugh and a joke some 30 years ago.

So chefs, think about. Can you spend five minutes to get out of the kitchen? Don’t be shy. Your customers will love you for it.

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