Monday, August 10, 2009

Do restaurant meals have to be healthy?

I would like to pose a question to you, dear readers:

‘Do restaurant meals have to be healthy?’

After dinner service I will often go out into the dining room to talk with guests & say a few hellos here & there. For years I had cringed when I saw other chefs do this as I felt it was all a bit pompous & stuffy, especially as the chefs in question wore the comedic outfit of pristine whites & a puffy, towering Toque, it always seemed a bit OTT to me.
However, as many of our clients are friends & regular diners I believe they don’t mind a bit of a word with me at the end of their meal & I like to see them happy.
At one table on Saturday night, the body language was tense, the smiles forced & the conversation stilted as I tried to interact, but something was amiss.
‘Steve, some of us were not happy with our meals tonight’ broke the deadlock & clarified my intuitive feelings of concern.
‘Oh, I’m sorry to hear that, what specifically were you not happy with?’ I say
It seems that in their dish choices, they felt there should have been more vegetables served with the main courses. As the dialogue began another person injected that ‘he would like it to be more “healthy”, you know more veggies on the plate not just a hunk of meat’. It was indicated to me that whilst they enjoyed their mains, the next day they would like to feel like they ate a healthy meal & not just a big plate of meat. ‘You know, some carrots or some cauliflower, even some broccoli’, another suggested. They were visibly relaxed after unburdening themselves of this task & they mood lightened considerably. I cheerfully said I would take on board their suggestions & left them to their desserts, of which all six I noted, had partaken.
I thought I handled this criticism quite well. I listened, didn’t get defensive, didn’t interrupt or make excuses & left the table with a joke & them smiling.
Upon returning to the kitchen though, I felt conflicted & here’s why.
When I design a main course my aim is to have a balance with the main ingredient in this case beef & a vegetable component, in this case beans, with a starchy item, baby potatoes. I don’t apply this formula to entrees as main courses need to have this balance in my opinion.
What they were suggesting in order to be rendered healthy is that each plate comes with the same mélange of vegetables or on the side. This notion is problematic for me. Each main course I create is substantially different from the next, offering what I believe is a range of tastes. By incorporating the same vegetable garnish on each main, I would be homogenizing my offer & quite frankly that’s what pubs do, chips & salad or spuds & vege, but that’s not what we set out to do.
For instance, would someone go to Tetsuyas & say his main courses were not healthy enough? Conversely eating at Maccas would you say the same thing? No, you have made a choice to eat at those establishments because you know/like what they serve. Is it reasonable to expect that a restaurant will tick all of your dietary requirements with their menu items? Is it their responsibility to offer meals perceived to be healthy? Is that why diners go out for dinner with friends? Do people rationalize before settling on one restaurant over another the notion that ‘We’ll go out for dinner because it’s where we will get healthy food’. Would you choose Stillwater over Lebrina because of healthy food choices? I dine out for many reasons but ‘health issues isn’t one of them, but thats just me.
Finally is it reasonable to question the integrity of an establishment by virtually imposing one's healthy eating regimen on it & then feel disappointed when they fail to meet your expectations?
I am very glad they spoke to me directly about their concerns, in fact I applaud them for it, however I dont fully agree with what was conveyed to me but I respect their opinions & their right to express them.
Each week I change the menu, so some dishes are veggie-centric some weeks & less so on others. It depends on when you might come as to the vegetive component of each dish; such is my propensity to keep changing, making it hopefully interesting to the diners who choose to eat here regularly.
Looking at this issue as objectively as I can & wanting repeat custom, I can see an argument for offering a side salad or a bowl of veggies but again though this poses a hurdle:
I personally don’t like forking out for extras like this & I know I am not alone. Yes I could incorporate the cost of these extras into the meal price & appear to serve it complimentary but I believe our price point is near its maximum already.
It also makes an admission to the diner that the mains might not have the food pyramid fully represented so they better order that side bowl of veggies!
It would make no sense having this dialogue with the customer on the night. If they are not happy, then no amount of my explaining will alter their opinion, in fact it would probably just make them uncomfortable & not want to come back. I just hope it goes some ways to explaining, from my point of view, why I do what I do sometimes & the reasoning behind those decisions but I guess I cant please everyone!

Its funny how someone else can have the complete opposite experience, with the same menu. Read the last comment on Ritas site to illustrate my point.

23 comments:

Michelle said...

Hi Steve, I loved everything about my RVL experience on Saturday, the service was super excellent, fab wine list and the room looked lovely. But the food was the star and was just perfect! I certainly didn't feel I missed out on my greens. In fact I was so blown away by the delicious food the food pyramid was the last thing on my mind... the duck tea....that perfectly cooked pork cotoletta.....YUM!

Good for you for being so diplomatic when handling the "suggestions", it can't be easy when obviously a great deal of thought has gone into creating such a fantastic menu.

Though I am slightly disappointed that you weren't wearing a toque...

Anonymous said...

why go to restaurants when you can enjoy healthy and delicious veggie meal on your home. Try the vegetable recipes at tanya's site, you will enjoy it and leave healthy life-style

Anonymous said...

I think you were very patient with them and I agree with the first comment and go out to restaurants for food I dont eat or cook at home. If we want healthy we usually cook for ourselves & eat at home.

Victor said...

What a Tosser! That is probably what Reb would say. Tell them to go to the pub down the road, if they want mountain of veg on the plate! Or, stay home! Why come out if you can't even seem to enjoy a good night out with your partner and friends, and all you could think of is "I want a healthier food". For godsake, how many restaurants actually serve healthy food. Haven't they watched the amount of butter, cream that goes into a meal in MasterChef? You only live once, might as well enjoy your life to the fullest. Gheezz...get a life or stay home and have steamed vegetables! Or maybe eat at Stuart Prosser's establishment.

Hazel said...

I concur with Michelle and Victor - my calorific intake is the last thing on my mind when dining out! I always look forward to the opportunity of trying something new or that I know we wouldn't cook at home. Thanks Steve for a wonderful meal on Friday night.

Rita said...

I have to admit I detested both Hazel and Michelle knowing they were both going to be eating there on Sat night, and you having described what your menu was going to be! Every dish sounded fabulous and I wanted ALL of them, particularly the dessert Hazel said today that she had loved!
I think people go out, as the boys and girls here have already said, for food they either don't or can't cook themselves.

If we want healthy (which, by the way, I think your food actually is anyway) we'll opt for a muesli bar or a salad, for god's sake!

Nah - gimme good tucker such is found on the evening menu at RVL any day!

reb said...

It sounds like these particular customers would've been happier had they just stayed home and ate what they usually eat. Meat and three veg. Exciting stuff like that.

*rolls eyes*

sir grumpy said...

I agree Steve, that when opting for dinner out, health issues are not in the picture.
Secondly, what is ``healthy'' one day is deemed killer the next.
Butter and cream are not unhealthy. Meat isn't, salad and veggies ain't. It's balance.
Rita says the health brigade should stay home and eat a muesli bar and salad. Have you read the label on muesli bats...sugar, salt, shit most of the way.
Salad leaves are oft sprayed with pesticide. Ditto veggies. Undercooked meat can give you ecoli poisoning.
But i do like a veggie of two with any mains and I know it may be hard work but offering veggies to complement each individual dish, rather than veg-of-the-day might circumvent this.
But for goodness sake, put the fun back health whingers!

Zoe said...

Idiots. Send them to the vegan raw food restaurant for their next meal out. What, there isn't one? Wonder why ;)

steve said...

Hello all thanks for your responses to a post that was & is close to the bone on how I make my living. I am especially sensitive on this issue as I'm going out on a limb especially since I deliberated about posting on this subject at all, not wanting to cross the line & upset punters which might take offence at my own strong minded opinion. In the end you have to remain true to yourself for all sorts of reasons so I decided to post after all.

Hi Michelle-To tell you the truth, I was shitting bricks that you, a feloww food lover & blogger was eating that night & hoped that you would enjoy our hospitality, ambience & food. To read your comments today releived me somewhat. I guess being 'diplomatic' as you suggest is a pudent course for someone who hopes to attract future custom but it does raise issues as to whom I listen to as far as our direction goes. My own self beleif or tyhe whims of one particular table?
As to the toque-Im so over the chefs uniforn you cant begin to imagine!

Hello anon-Thank you for the link.

Hello also Anon-I tend to agree with you

Hi Victor-We can always rely on you to add commonsense to the debate!

Hi Hazel-You are most welcome! If you pop in next time, please make yourself known!

Hi Rita-You'll just have to make it down another time to put us to the test I guess!

Hiya Reb-Nice to hear from you again-Glad as I am for the custom, as you suggest, one cant always please everyone.

Well hello Sir Grumpy & it is good to hear from you. I appreciate your candour on this contentious issue. I like a balanced main course myself where everything is represented, meat(if at all) vege & starchy component. I felt that was won offer on that particular night, they felt differently-what can one do? No one is wrong here, I cant 'impose' my opinion on someone-they'll still feel the same way. I hope they return & feel secure that I might have put a lot of thought into the dishes avialable on the night, dishes that if taken as a whoel meal, end up balancing throughout three courses

steve said...

Hiya Zoe-thanks for dropping by. In their defence, I'm glad they bought it up directly with me & not bagged us to everyone else in town & that takes some fortitude.

Anonymous said...

Now Steve...when talking about staying true to yourself, when(ever) did 'diplomacy' ever come into the frame?

Rita said...

Don't be a tool Anon! Granted Rudd is not selecting Steve as Foreign Minister, but for someone as outspoken and direct as he definitely is, he is surprisingly diplomatic!

Elaine eats said...

I agree - if you want a nutritionally balanced meal when you go out, you just have to select from the menu accordingly, but I do take issue with the wholesale adoption of the spelling "veggies" so loved by American spellcheckers.

It has been for ages, and still should be, vegies, as in wedgies, not a hard "g" as in doggie.
Spellcheckers can be taught to accommodate this!

Anonymous said...

Elaine, dear...it is vegetables, not vegies, so using veggies is just as appropriate. Get a life.

steve said...

Hello anon-you must have me confuesd with another steve

Hi Rita-How gallant of you!

Hi Elain-you have had issues with me over this before, I'll try to heed your advice from this pont forward!

Last anon-take it easy!

Anonymous said...

Unless you have morphed from ginger-headed git into something else......Steve, I don't know what was worse, the spider bite that drew blood at your place or Rita. Joking Rita, settle. I'm not one of the old stalkers of GG days. Yet.

steve said...

Hi anon-still the same ginger headed git I'm afraid! The spider bite thing intrigues me though? What do you mean?

Anonymous said...

The huntsman that drew blood.

steve said...

Ah you're 'that' anon, in which case a spider bite never hurt anyone & I suggest you toughen up, el quicko city boy!

Hazel said...

Hi Steve -Came in for breakfast on Saturday - I'm afraid we're addicted to your bread! You were a bit busy with some friends on the couches so I'll be braver next time and say hello.

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