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If I Never See Another Takeaway Box Again... It'll Be Too Soon!

Updated: Mar 4, 2022

Just like you, we get unsolicited phone calls throughout the day at the restaurant. Rarely they're people making bookings, more usually it's someone either selling utilities or insurance renewal, or it's a scam based around the electric bill. In any case I usually give them short shrift, or have a bit of fun at their expense. My wife tells me off for this as they're only doing their job, but seriously, I'd be much more amenable if they just did a little research into who they were phoning, realised it was a restaurant, and didn't call in the middle of service or during morning prep. All this is a needless preamble towards the phone call I got recently from a takeaway delivery company; Not one of the 'big' three, another, whose name has immediately vanished from my memory. The question was "Would I consider having a delivered takeaway service?" And the answer at the time (12.30 on a Thursday lunchtime to be specific) was "I'd rather stick needles in my eyes."

Now, three years ago, we did have a very brief dalliance with Uber Eats, who, after Deliveroo had told us we were "Too far out of the city," had wooed us with promises of extra orders at quiet times, easy set up and control, and loads of delivery service vassals or whatever they were calling their cyclists/drivers at the time. I signed up, took delivery of the tablet computer, set up the menu and waited excitedly for the first order to come in, hoping that it would not clash with an already busy point in the kitchen. We waited a long time, until eventually, Tada! The first order! A Burrito and a dessert! (Well, we all have to start somewhere, good thing I bought all those takeaway boxes!) We checked as the driver got closer and closer, then a helmeted head popped through the door and our first takeaway had gone! The next night another order! (Yes, just one order on the first evening.) We waited for someone to be assigned to collect the order, and waited, and waited. The customer was running out of patience, and rang us, we called Uber Eats; No one was available to collect the order.... "Don't worry, you'll still get paid!" (Fat lot of use to our customer.) The third night, another order, again, no collection, again more phone calls, and a disclaimer from Uber 'they can't guarantee a driver/cyclist will want to pick up a collection from so far out of the city.' One more try and an order comes in on a Saturday night, just for two desserts, oh well, it's all grist to the mill. Hooray a driver is assigned! We watch their tracking as he/she/it gets nearer, and nearer, then, hang on? Further, and further away? Eventually they disappear. The young girl who placed the order is on the phone, she's been having a bad weekend, her Gran's just died, she's really sad, and thought a couple of nice desserts from her favourite restaurant would make her feel better (it would!) but two hours later, she still hasn't got the desserts. She's got a refund, but no desserts and I say: "We've got the desserts if you still want them?" And she says she's going to jump in a taxi and come down to collect them! Well, the taxi arrives, and customer and desserts are just about to be reunited, we've just got to put the food in a box, but while she's in the restaurant, the taxi drives off! Her bad weekend has got worse by degrees and now she's sitting on the sofa in the restaurant sobbing her eyes out! (I won't say which taxi firm, but there are three letters in their name, in alphabetical order.) I had one of my chefs leave early and drop her home on his way, but given the state of his car, I don't think her weekend got any better until she was finally eating the puddings. After that, the tablet was switched off and consigned to a cupboard until it was eventually fished out, given a factory reset, and I'm currently using it to write this blog. Guess what? No one's been available to collect it.

Of course you know that last year I did loads of takeaways, I've already told you that. Actually it was fun, coming up with a theme and dishes for each week, pizza one week, curry the next, pan-Asian after that. Mrs Chris would come into the restaurant and take telephone orders until we had filled up all the slots on a weekend, then I would pretend to be a pizzolliolo for a day. Do you want to know a hack to turn a normal electric oven into a pizza oven? You need to have a pizza stone, and a grill that you can turn up to full with the door closed (sometimes there's a cut-off if you have the door closed and it doesn't work.) You can get a conventional oven up to 260 degrees! Obviously, this is outside of the regular usage and not covered by your guarantee! Also, the restaurant (and the ovens in its' teaching kitchen) is only 200m from the nearest fire station... Just sayin'.

One week we did a Trowse quiz and chips; Takeaway, with a free local and/or food themed quiz sheet with on-line answers. At Easter I made 18 dozen hot crossed buns. On Valentine's day I produced a cook-at-home Valentine's meal kit... Each order took the usual time to prep, cooking all the sauces etc. and then half an hour to portion and box up with instructions! Maybe that wouldn't be a regular thing! A benefit of all the variety was that it gave me lots of opportunity to experiment with flavours and combinations, but I couldn't control how the finished dish would look when it arrived on the dining table.

The same day that the hapless caller mentioned above rang me, I had, among several guests in the restaurant, a table of two couples near the kitchen who were having such a good time. Eating, chatting, drinking, laughing, doing what we want people to do while in the restaurant; To be happy, relaxed, and feel at home. I can be confident that the food that arrives on your table is (almost always) correctly cooked, optimum temperature, seasoned just right, and presented the way it should be. If all those things work together, then customers can concentrate on nothing but enjoying the food and one another's company; No one has to wash up, sort out the recycling from the rubbish, or sweep up after a particularly crumbly dish. That's all done for you, and the table, when they came to the counter to pay, said how they'd enjoyed their evening and were so glad to be back in the restaurant!

Frankly, even if I were confident that I could successfully confine my dishes to a cardboard box that would arrive, after being bounced around in a rucksack, in a presentable state, forty minutes after service and still hot? I would still prefer never to do another takeaway, because I'm a restaurant chef, and I want to see a dining room full of contented people, talking to them and knowing they're satisfied, and being able to do something about it if not. Or perhaps, and this has been mooted before: I'm a control freak, and just can't stand to let another person deliver my food?

There's many a slip 'twixt cup and lip however, and we can't rule out the prospect of more shutdowns before the pandemic had dissipated. So it's a good job our cellar is still home to several hundred assorted takeaway containers, I'm just trying to ignore them for now...

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