These days there is fierce competition between eating places, especially as the tourist season is only just around the corner. Places are popular for a while and then for some reason they go out of favour. It is not an easy life for owners of pubs and eating houses - there is always so much to do and it is important to always be pleasant, welcoming, prompt as well as serving first class food. You don't need to just think about today's meal, you need to think about tempting people to return and to tell their friends.
This was brought home to me when I went out to lunch with a friend yesterday. I wish I had taken my camera, but I forgot it. Absolutely everything about the meal was first class. I will tempt your taste buds by telling you that we both had crayfish and chicory salad for starter; then my friend had lemon sole with veggies and I had mushroom risotto. My friend had chocolate torte for pud (I had no pud) and then we both had two coffees - these came with a pretty china tray of home made chocolates. My friend had a glass of merlot with her meal, I had a tonic with ice and lemon. The whole meal, including drinks, for both of us was around £28. Now that is good value.
Coming home I made a mental list of the important things that made this meal so good.
Here they are:-
1. The outside as you approach the car park. There were tubs with Spring flowers, the area was swept clean, the wall lights were on inside, and as we drove into the car park (we were five minutes before opening time) the landlady opened the door and invited us in!
2. There was a huge log fire burning in the grate - not a mock fire but a real, lusty fire which she made up several times during the two hours we were there. We bagged the table in the window by the fire. The windows were shiny clean and we had a lovely view of the village.
3. Menus were brought immediately by a smiling lady who told us to take our time, took our drinks order and returned in minutes with that.
4. Cutlery and napkins arrived along with salt and pepper and table mats - all spotlessly clean and within a few minutes our salads came - they looked so tasty and were so prettily served.
5. The waitress kept here eye on us and immediately we had finished she took the plates away and brought our main course. Within a couple of minutes she was back to ask if we needed anything more.
6. Coffee was accompanied by a small white china tray holding four home made chocolates and a pretty central fruit decoration.
Then we were left by the fire to enjoy our coffee and toast our feet by the blaze. There was a pleasant hum of conversation and no-one pressed us to leave. As we paid we were wished a pleasant journey and told that they hoped we would come again.
Do your eating places fulfil all these criteria. Certainly the ones I usually go to don't. Often the outside is sadly neglected - cigarette ends where people have come outside for a smoke, bits of rubbish which have blown there, outside tables and chairs still showing the ravages of winter.
I would say to these owners - pull your socks up - visitors will be scarcer than usual this year during the recession. You have to pull all the stops out to attract people over the threshold and keep them there.
I am going out to dinner tonight as well, sadly to a different hostelry - I doubt it will be as good - it certainly won't be better.