Updated: Apr 6
Do you like the cake? I made it last year, I've only done a few wedding cakes, but dozens of birthday cakes, bit of a sideline, always under-charge, usually people ask for them at such short notice that I'll never have time to make them. How is it that some people seem to forget there's a 70th birthday coming up until it's only two days away? seriously, you've literally had 70 years to prepare for this....
Anyhow, if you let us know you've got a birthday coming up I might be able to make a cake, but we've also started doing our 'Birthday Brownie'; A little slice of something delicious and chocolatey with a candle in it to go on the table because... Well, you can't always be sure whose birthday it actually is, and how old they really are! In previous times we'd put a candle in a dessert, which was fine if a: You knew whose birthday it was and which dessert they were having, and b: They actually ordered a dessert.
There are of course those birthday parties who turn up with their own birthday cake, either home made, or bought in. Very occasionally they ask permission to do this, equally rarely, they also order desserts. So, for the most part though this is not too often, we will have a birthday party of six or eight people, bringing their own cake into the restaurant, spending the extra time at the table, needing plates and cutlery, not ordering desserts, and making no bones about it, this does cost us money.
After much deliberation, last week I introduced the concept of 'Cakeage' to the restaurant for the first time. I thought it was my own unique idea, but little did I know know that, not only was it already a 'thing,' but it was a thing that had erupted in a 'Twitter storm', which is like a real storm, in the same way that a Cadbury's Creme egg is like a Faberge jeweled egg...
The whole issue arrives amid soul searching among restaurateurs and operators UK wide around costs and pricing. We know how your personal costs of living are going up (so have ours), but commercial energy costs are not price-capped, ingredients costs are rising, and the cost of staff wages, VAT and NI have all been hiked simultaneously at the same time as many of us are still operating with smaller dining rooms. How much of that cost can sustainably be passed on the customers who have less money to spend? How to reduce costs, reduce hours, reduce staff? And crucially, how to value the product that you buy when you visit a restaurant?
Prices inevitably must rise to cover costs, and although ingredients costs have risen, especially imported goods thanks to Brexit, the pandemic, and the fuel crisis, the proportion of a dish's costs that can be attributed purely to ingredients has fallen. Rent, rates, lighting and heating have risen consistently, and the Living Wage, which forms the baseline of all hospitality wages has gone up to such an extent, that it now costs more per hour for an unskilled kitchen porter, than a head chef six year ago. There used to be a rule of thumb that the ingredients would make up 30-40% of the cost of a dish which would be priced accordingly, but that formula no longer functions. OK, it may still work with restaurants that have premium ingredients coming with a high price tag, say lobster or venison, but ironically, these ingredients need less work to bring to the table; Any half-decent chef can make a good dish out of a fillet steak, it takes a much more inventive cook to do the same with a cauliflower and a tin of beans. Should the cost of a dish reflect the number or processes involved in its' production? Or maybe the quantity of food on the plate? There's an argument for going with fixed price menus (so much for two courses, or for three) as in practice, there's rarely much to differentiate one vegetable dish from another. perhaps the cost of a meal out should be proportionate to the fixed costs incurred in sitting at the table for two hours? regardless of whether you have just a soup or three courses, the restaurant must still be heated, no one else can sit on your seat, staff are required to serve you, and the chefs need to be in, cooking, from 7am, just in case you want the Wellington or only the watercress.
All this of course, brings me back to 'Cakeage': The costs to the restaurant of bringing your own food. We have to make an assumption, an educated guess as to how much of what items our customers are going to eat, and if we get it wrong, there will be waste at the end of the day or week. So, when customers bring their own cakes, not only does it cost money to provide and wash up plates and cutlery, cut the cake, serve the cake, and seat them whilst they're eating their own food, there is also the potential waste element of food they're not eating that we might have expected they order. With all that in mind I decided to introduce a nominal charge of £2.50 per person, for anyone not ordering a dessert when you bring your own cake. Order a dessert? That's fine, have the cake and eat it too! Don't bring a cake? That's OK too, let us know and we'll do the 'Birthday Brownie' thing. Don't want a dessert? You're going home to eat cake there? That's also fine, at least there's a chance someone else might have your table after you. Also, as I have mentioned, I'm quite capable of making a birthday cake for you, that would also comply with our restaurant's hygiene and allergen policies. I think £2.50 is reasonable (bearing in mind that almost 40p of that goes to the government in tax). What provoked the twitter storm last week, was that some restaurants are doing this, and charging £10 per head (ie, the same price as their desserts, not ours I hasten to add.) This seems a lot of money if you've already spent out on a birthday cake, but if the restaurant might ordinarily expect you to spend £10 on a dessert, is it unreasonable? Conversely, is the charge so high it would put customers off, thereby harming the business? So, as I mentioned, there was quite a lot of debate on this subject on Twitter, though I don't follow that platform, I read about it after the fact. The only conclusion that seemed to be drawn was an agreement not to agree.
It appears that pricing, and particularly charging for things which you are not actually providing, might well be controversial, I just hope that most people who respond, continue to think that River Green is good value for money. To that end, can I encourage you to fill in the feedback requests that you get sent from our booking engine? As well as to continue to review us on Tripadvisor and Google. Just to say however that I have a small confession to make; When our girls were little, we once took our own birthday cake to a restaurant!
I'd like this to be the start of a discussion over cakeage and pricing, but it seems that allowing commenting on blog posts is the same as allowing people to spam your website with unwanted ads. However, feel free to email me if you feel strongly one way or another, I'll be happy to hear from you!