While drinking my Monday morning coffee in Bangkok, I came across this article by AA Gill, The Times acerbic restaurant critic. It was called ‘The golden rules for a perfect restaurant.’ Just the sort of thing I should start my week with, I thought.
If Gill had written that headline – or me for that matter – it would have been called something different. Perhaps ‘You will never realise your dream, deluded fool!’ or perhaps, ‘AA Gill really hates when people tell him he should open a restaurant, because doing that is quite clearly insane.’ This was actually a very bad way to start my week.
I’ve worked in restaurants, reviewed restaurants for a living, and filed features on all sorts of restaurant-related business. I agree with much of what Gill says in his piece, but as my wife wisely tells me, ‘sometimes, it’s the way that you say it.' I’d like to add this: ‘Sometimes, it’s what you leave out.’
And what his piece leaves out, and what so many food industry professionals don’t readily admit when they’re explaining the woes of restaurant life, is that hospitality is infectious. Serving great food and drinks gets in your blood, it occupies your mind, and it might just supplant good sense. But it is very often about passion, not just about building a well-oiled factory, as Gill suggests. (Oh, and hard work, location, marketing and skill don’t factor in much, either, according to the article).
But for all those failed caterers and foolish concepts that form the backbone of Gill's brittle logic, there are a heck of a lot of successful restaurant operators too. People that love seeking out great ingredients, conceptualizing menus, leading a team of cooks and servers, walking through a crowded dining room, head high. People that wouldn't be caught dead behind a desk, writing cynical restaurant criticism.
A restaurant is a business, but not one born out of good business sense or craven profit margins. Like it or not, many restaurants are born of something like love, and that does occasionally translate into success. That "elusive and capricious alchemy" which all restaurateurs strive for.
And twenty percent of them find that in three years time, apparently -- if you’d like to reduce all this to a jumble of numbers, Mister Gill.