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'Celebrity' Chef Bans Vegans Story...

Well, apparently this is a story that has recently gone 'viral.' You may have seen it online, or in the newspapers. In a nutshell; This British born chef now running his own restaurant in Australia, although not having a vegan option on his menu, took a booking from a vegan and promised to do them something special. However, on the day, had been preoccupied with a private party and forgot to tell his Sous about the booking, leaving the customer with just a(n expensive) plate of vegetables. The said customer left a review which was naturally negative and poured scorn on the chef's cooking abilities, and expressing doubts over the restaurant's longevity, given their apparent unwillingness to cater for other diets. Although admitting his mistake, the chef took the review personally and in what can only be described as a 'childish' riposte, called the customer's comments 'childish' banning them and any other vegans in no uncertain terms, from ever visiting his restaurant again.

Now, notwithstanding that the whole incident could possibly have been avoided on the day by good customer service: "Sorry, I forgot to make this meal that I promised, here's a plate of vegetables for free." (Why they charged at all is beyond me?) I can however fully understand how the said chef could take the criticism personally and react viscerally. For any chef running their own restaurant, the menu is an expression of their own personality, their passions and their creativity; You put yourself on a plate in front of every customer and it's almost impossible to take reviews objectively. No doubt John Mountain (for that is his name) thought that his menu was difficult enough to produce and didn't think that plant based was the challenge it turned out to be! (He has a recipe book out with just pork recipes.)

Apparently the reason for the ban was to preserve his mental health? Having seen the review, I'd say I've seen worse, but perhaps he was unused to any negative feedback? Or did he actually find the prospect of devising plant based dishes just beyond his ability? There has been a lot of discussion of mental health recently, not least in the catering industry. In the UK this has coincided with the launch of the 'Burnt Chef' project off the back of the stresses of lockdown. Running a restaurant, particularly in this day and age, is very stressful, but one should be prepared to concede the odd negative review without throwing all your toys out of the pram, you can't after all, please all of the people all of the time.

Two questions remain outstanding though: Firstly, why would a vegan specifically want to book a table at this all-meat restaurant in the first place? A glance at the menu reveals that they did have one vegetarian option, so perhaps the customer didn't think it too much of a stretch to adapt that to vegan, and even gave the restaurant a heads-up in order to give them the time to do so. I don't know what competition there was locally, and what other choices this customer had, perhaps the reputation of the chef or his restaurant proved too much of a temptation? Nevertheless I wouldn't have been heading to this restaurant had I any other option. Certainly, after this customer's experience and the reaction of the chef, I wouldn't imagine any other vegan heading in that direction (even if they weren't banned!)

Secondly; Why the restaurant didn't cater for vegans in the first place? Yes, they had a vegetarian option (with cheese), but you will always get some member of a party who has intolerances, dietary requirements, or allergies. Rather than provide one choice that is suitable for vegetarians only (albeit also suitable for meat-eaters,) if you're going to provide an option, it's sensible to have one that will cover dairy-free, maybe gluten free, nut free etc. too, so there's less chance of having to make special orders (which you might forget to do!) Either stick to your principles and don't provide options, or cater for others properly, as Yoda said: "Do, or do not, there is no 'try.'"

Regardless of the pros and cons of catering or not catering for vegans, this story really illustrates the old adage that there's no such thing as bad publicity! Notwithstanding the pushback from vegans the world over, this small independent restaurant has had free publicity in local and national press in Australia, worldwide press, and all over the internet. They've even had vegan websites (and this vegan chef) doing their publicity for them! Obviously there will be people who never considered visiting this restaurant forswearing even darkening his doorstep, but plenty of existing and new customers who, for whatever reasons they have, would be be making extra or first trips to the establishment. Doubtless, chef Mountain's mental health is in a much better condition now, with a steady stream of customers showering him with messages of support and bookings. So perhaps we should leave him there and not talk about him any longer?

At River Green we don't ban any group of customers (though I have toyed with excluding certain individuals in the past!) In one respect we are accepting of all; We are a vegan restaurant where 75% of our customers are either meat eaters, pescatarian or vegetarian. We don't boast about our veganism, nor do we proselitise, or require any commitment from our meat-eating customers. In essence, we believe every vegan meal eaten instead of an omni one is a win for the animals and the planet. On the other hand, we are equally uncompromising; No we don't have a meat or even a vegetarian option! Lots of keyboard warriors complain that vegan restaurants don't have meat options (it's usually framed as a rhetorical question,) but leaving aside the difficulties hygiene-wise, the obvious answer is that we have principles. The Australian restaurant too has principles it wants to stick to, but ours are framed as ethics; To kill an animal for food is morally wrong. You can try to argue that it isn't, but you cannot prove that in any objective way. Just as in the Australian example, you know what we're about. Customers visit because they want good vegan food, or just something different from the usual. They like the food, they like the service, they like the atmosphere. (Almost) everyone can eat (almost) anything on the menu, and in that respect, we hope we don't have any complaints. If we do, just remember that sticks and stones are in fact, not the only thing that can hurt after all.

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