Food and Restaurant Digest #43, October 5 2018 
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Paying for the dinner you didn't eat

A recent piece in The Guardian tackles the issue of diners who make reservations which they fail to honour, and how an increasing number of restaurants are responding by either requesting a non-refundable deposit on booking, or simply requiring credit card details and then "fining" people for not showing up. 

On the one hand, it's a fairly simple - and understandable - form of insurance on the part of restaurants which may stand to lose significant revenue if the booking sheet promises a bustling evening that instead results in empty seats, wasted ingredients, and a contingent of staff whose time could be better employed - and rewarded! - elsewhere. 

(Image courtesy of Travel Gumbo)

On the other hand, it's an interesting twist to the story about some of the technological advances designed to make everyone's live easier, like online booking systems which allow both diners and restaurants to bypass what some perceive as the hassle of having to make an actual phone-call to secure a seat at your favourite spot. As The Guardian piece explains, "Tim Hayward, the Financial Times’ restaurant critic, describes a situation where, instead of booking by phone and making a personal connection with a restaurant (increasingly, restaurants will not answer the phone, he complains), diners are now nudged towards pushy, faceless platforms that alienate customers and erode the responsibility they once felt towards their dinner plans: 'Customers have changed their attitude, but can anyone blame them?'"

In that scenario, diners are excused from their non-committal behaviour thanks to the convenience of being able to make (multiple) bookings online at the press of a button rather than having a conversation in person, the latter of which would presumably encourage more thoughtful behaviour.

Perhaps it's true that the online booking facilities which in many ways streamline our calendar commitments can also result in people caring less about neglecting those commitments. But perhaps it's equally the case that the technology that many people blame for anti-social behaviour simply assists with exposing people who were ill-mannered to begin with. In summary, it's not at all clear that it's the technology that's changing people: many of us use it to enormous benefit, after all, as do restaurants, whose front of house can be greatly freed up to attend to other matters than answering the telephone thanks to systems like online bookings. Committing to a spend which helps to secure salaries for those who make and serve our food when we eat out does, then, seem a reasonable price to pay - especially if we actually turn up for a seat at the table.      

Latest from our site   

For the most recent instalment of our Story of a Plate series, we chat to Executive Chef James Gaag of La Colombe about the grand finale the restaurant currently serves to conclude meals. Modestly named "Flavours from our garden", diners are presented with a magnificent collection of petit fours, served on a hollowed out cork log, complete with living plants and fynbos sourced from around the estate and re-planted every few days.

It's the kind of log best kept far away from the fire that chef Pete Goffe-Wood explains is the "measure of man" when it comes to braai-ing in South Africa in his latest Pinch of Salt column, "Man on Fire" (which includes a hilarious story about his first ill-conceived attempt to cook a lamb on a spit for a 21st birthday party!).
Bits and Bites
Baked lobsters: Following the recent decriminalisation of marijuana for personal use in South Africa, it was interesting to read about a restaurant in Maine, USA, which apparently "gets lobsters 'high' before killing them", claiming it to be more humane than other traditional methods. Might the SA Constitutional Court consider such practices legitimate "personal use"? 

Poor table manners: Speaking of bad manners and pot (well, sort of), "Etiquette experts explain how today's culture has allowed our manners to go to pot". Ostensible offences include such behaviour as licking one's fingers after exiting a restaurant (!!), then using those same fingers to open another public door, and the more recognisable examples of cellphones at the table (if you bother to show up for your reservation!). The conclusion? "Years ago, people stayed home and sat around the family table. Today, there are more people in the workforce, which contributes to more expendable income to spend on socializing and eating out. With new opportunity comes the potential for more dining disasters". (Maybe the definition of disaster is changing as fast as etiquette rules these days.)

Brits take on competitive eating: Though there are rules, there is little space for manners when it comes to competitive eating. It used to be largely confined to Japan and the US, but the "sport" of eating challenges has recently gained popularity in the UK, where "eaters" like 24 yr-old Kate Ovens regularly scarf down 3kg of kebabs or a kilo of fish and chips for her YouTube subscribers. It's unclear what's more disturbing: the (wasteful and unnecessary) act of pushing one's body to such extremes, or the fact that people want to watch such spectacles?  
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