Now and then I like to to read patron reviews of various restaurants.
By reading into their dining experiences, I get useful insights that I can use to better support our clients.
Every restaurant owners should also keep abreast with the latest beat in the food and hospitality industry. By knowing what frustrates your customers, you can help your business recover promptly from a bad review (that can potentially damage your reputation) or save you from a legal complaint.
Here are some frustrating issues diners or patrons complain about:
Food served isn’t cooked the way as it was described on the menu
The description on the menus serves a purpose. They help the patrons know what to expect from a dish, especially if they are ordering that dish for the first time. Smart restaurants know the power of captivating menu descriptions that entice a reader through imagination.
Therefore, if your restaurant served a dish differently from how your menu described it, it can be frustrating.
Patrons may feel a sense of being tricked. You can hope that they raise this issue with your staff and still return in the future instead of not making any feedback and just not come back again. Without knowing, you may have just lost a customer.
Food served is burnt.
Some dishes involves a certain level of charring or burning to achieve its intended taste. The Turkish milk pudding Kazandibi and Creme Brulee, for example, require some form of scorching. Some barbecued briskets are tastier smoked with crisp/ burnt edges. Incorporating a burned fruit or vegetable is also common in Mexican cuisine.
But unless charred food is something that diners requested (which I highly doubt), this is a disappointing item to serve. It also poses health risks because deeply charred meats are said to be cancer-causing due to the chemicals released.
A BBC article states that a cancer-causing substance, acrylamide, is produced when starchy foods like bread and potatoes are browned. At this time, it is found to only affect animals, but continuous studies are being done to determine if it can also affect human health and how much quantity puts a person at risk.
Food served has a foreign object in it.
Finding a foreign object in your plate is not only disgusting but also potentially dangerous. Unfortunately, foreign objects can find their way into food as a result of carelessness or relaxed safety and sanitation practices. Common examples include hair, pebbles, plastic, jewellery, glass, wood, cigarettes, gum, insects, rodents. In some extreme cases, examples are feces, blood, fingernails and other human/animal body parts are also found.
This is a lawsuit waiting to happen! The foreign object can be a choking hazard. They can cause injury to the teeth, mouth and throat. It doesn’t end there. If swallowed, the foreign object can also injure your digestive organs (stomach and intestines). They are also considered as contaminants. Therefore food poisoning is possible.
Food served has allergen despite being informed by the diner.
Diners are responsible for relaying any information about their allergy to the waiter. When this information is passed to the restaurant staff, this information becomes a priority and is taken seriously because allergies can be life-threatening.
Various restaurants have established allergy protocols that clearly states the steps when a patron says they have an allergy. Measures like these prevent endangering that patron and avoiding a lawsuit in your end.
In my previous blog article Managing Food Allergies in Your Next Event, you can read more tips on sanitation and preventing cross-contamination.
Food served is at the wrong temperature.
Perhaps this is the most common frustrating thing for diners. This can happen when the food is left to sit in the window for an extended period. As a result, patrons will have their plates returned to the kitchen. A common item complained about temperature and doneness is steak. Chefs ideally should cook a new one instead of reheating it. Reheating steaks on a microwave is a terrible idea. You will end with a tough leathery mess that will give your diners even more reason to complain.
Some local health codes forbid taking food that has been served to the customer and returning it to the cooking area for reheating, so be mindful of that.
Other factors can be equipment related. Therefore, ensure that your various kitchen equipment is regularly maintained. There are a lot of things that rely on this – food safety concerns, minimize food wastes and ensuring cold foods are served cold.
Another thing is that serving food with incorrect and expected temperatures could give your patrons a hint that maybe you are serving pre-made food. This has become a commonality in the restaurant kitchen to address huge volumes of orders, but your patrons may not understand that. The goal of having pre-made food is to have it as a backup plan, but your kitchen team should still execute care in preparation and serving.
Food served is too salty.
One of the most challenging things to master in cooking food is proper seasoning. Chefs and cooks prepare food for a variety of palates.
But conventionally, salt should be added to the dishes at the very beginning of the cooking. This method flavours the dish better because salt is given time to diffuse in the food. Another thing is that salt penetrates cold food slower. In kitchen testings done by America’s Test Kitchen, they found out that it usually takes 24 hours for the salt to diffuse in the centre of a refrigerated raw turkey. During cooking, the rate of diffusion increases and doubles for every 10-degree increase in temperature up to the boiling point. Another interesting thing is that salt penetrates vegetables even slower than it does meat. It takes time for the salt to penetrate the rigid plant cells.
Adding salt later in the cooking tends to provide a concentrated taste on a superficial level as it is not given enough time to get absorbed and adjust to the other flavours as well as reacting to the cooking process. This is the reason why food tends to be saltier.
Skilled chefs know that the dish is not ruined if salt is added late in the cooking process. They start by adding a very small amount, then taste and season further as desired.
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Inconsistent food preparation
A hit and miss service from a frequently visited restaurant can be frustrating.
Whatever it is that enticed them the first time they went there may not be there the next time. It can make the diners feel uncertain when they can expect it again, hoping that the restaurant can still get it right. When your restaurant is inconsistent, you lose the trust of your customers. You lose potential repeat business. You lose potential profits.
You can minimize these frustrating mistakes by effective training using clear procedures
These two go hand in hand. Conduct in-depth training as soon as you hire a new team member and use these protocols to guide them.
Operating without any clear and guiding processes can lead to business downfall.
How can you expect someone to nail something perfectly when procedures are confusing?
And let’s not forget, there is also the human factor involved. Depending on how you structure your business, there can be different levels of management that may confuse the rest of the staff. So having a standard procedure can prevent various kinds of interpretations, and everyone is on the same page.
Correctly set recipes for each of your dishes can help problems dealing with portion control, seasoning, cooking time and presentation. Don’t leave room for guessing. This is a tool that you can use to complement your training. As your kitchen team skills improve, they will not be expected to keep referring at these recipes every single time, but having them printed out and kept in an accessible area in your kitchen saves valuable time and minimizes mistakes.
Your servers can also refer to these set recipes to help them provide any dietary information when asked.
Schedule training refreshers throughout the year for all your staff. This will enable everyone to get reoriented to the kitchen workflows, from food preparation to cleaning methods, as well as orienting them to new systems.
Training also involves boosting your team’s confidence. Don’t you feel able to tackle something (no matter how difficult) if you can feel someone else’s confidence in you?
Finally, keep things simple. If your team still encounters inconsistencies or any difficulties, it could be that the work policies are too complicated. Simplify on areas that you can simplify. What you want are team members who know what they are doing, without any confusion.
Chaos in the kitchen is given, and you should improve your systems around that chaos. Don’t leave things up to chance. You want your kitchens to be consistently serving quality food so be open to ideas that can help you with this, even if it is just a small change.
That’s it for this week.
As always, Professional Chefs on Call at Anytime!
Ciao for now,