• Steve Tuck

The Christmas function-things you should know.

Updated: Oct 17, 2019

It’s that time of year again. People up and down the country are now thinking about booking their Christmas bash in the local pub or restaurant. If you are one of these people, read on.

The majority of pubs and restaurants in this country are chained owned. This means that the Christmas meal that you and your workmates/family are going to spend your hard-earned wages on, has not been written by the chefs who work in the establishment of your choice and in some cases not even prepared there.

Let me expand. Most of these chained owned pubs/restaurants have ‘development’ chefs. These are normally chefs who couldn’t hack it in the real working environment, so they now write and develop menus for their said chains. This means that there is probably some ‘chef’ writing and developing a menu which will be served in all of their pubs up and down the country.

The menu will consist of cost-effective items that will be given a festive name, it’s important that these items can be easily assembled by chefs and serving staff alike. A lot of these establishments will employ people who are just there to follow written instructions and pictures. Every effort will be made to make the festive menu sound as appealing as possible, and cater for all tastes, there will be the token vegetarian dish which can be served without the grated cheese to make it vegan. Gluten free offerings will be plentiful as it’s the latest trend and not forgetting turkey with all the trimmings and some very dodgy mass-produced Christmas pudding and packet brandy sauce (you don’t think they make it fresh, do you?)

Please do not be impressed by the term ‘locally sourced’ unless it actually tells you where that product has been locally sourced from. The menu might have been written in Birmingham and you are eating in Brighton, so ask yourself the question, locally sourced from which part of the country?

A lot of the menu items will arrive from a huge central production kitchen. Pre portioned, already cooked in some cases, sauces pre made and sent in plastic bags, fresh meat will come from a national distributor and not a local butcher, the same with the fish. Pictures of all the dishes will be sent along with the food. All food leaving the kitchen must be exactly the same as the picture. These companies will send mystery diners to these venues to make sure that all instructions are being carried out. Failure will result in lost points on all important internal audits. 

Portion control is vital, pre portioned food means that the exact gross profit is being met on each dish, normally in the region of 72%, this means that a dish that costs £4 to put on a plate should  sell for £17.14, but will normally go on the menu for £18 or more, just to help cover, gas, electricity and a small part of the chef’s wages.

Bums on seats is vital to these establishments, so don’t be surprised to find a few extra tables crammed in to the dining area and maybe the usually non eating area. Your comfort will be compromised to put another couple of hundred quid in the till. Large tables are the norm for parties, anything from10 upwards.

Brace yourself therefore, to be inconvenienced by the big table changing seating arrangements because nobody wants to sit next to Auntie Beryl because she dribbles when she eats, kids running amok because mom and dad just need a drink and there are plenty of other family to mind the offspring, somebody will demand chips with their turkey and make a scene if they don’t get them and you know at least one drink will get spilt and chaos will ensue as the clearing operation begins.

Depending upon the size of the kitchen (all the ones I’ve worked in, have not been huge) kicking out 20 plated meals at once, can be a bit of a nightmare, especially in this day and age of dietary requirements. Serving staff are never in abundance when it actually comes to taking food from the kitchen. Food can be sat on plates for anything up to 5 minutes waiting for someone from the front of house staff to actually come and take it out. Then comes the inevitable cry from a very harassed, stressed out member of the serving team, who’s been getting grief from frustrated diners, of “table 6 have been waiting 30 minutes for their starter”. Trust me, it’s not always the chef’s fault. 

Be prepared for a longer than usual wait and a few mistakes, but you can always go and queue at the bar while you wait, it will be marginally quicker than waiting for a member of the serving team to ask you, if require more drinks.

I use the term serving staff over waiting staff for one reason. I am a fully qualified waiter as well as a chef. I studied for 2 years in the art of food service and seeing somebody clear a table one maybe two plates at time makes them a server, or plate carrier, as we chefs affectionately call them. A waiter should be able to easily clear 4 –6 plates in one go.

There is also nothing worse than a server coming to the table and asking “who’s having the......” 

It’s not the server’s fault though, these are usually school kids or university students earning a few beer tokens over the festive period. Poor training from the top is what’s to blame but remember, decent training costs time and money. What’s the point of spending that hard-earned profit on somebody who’s only going to working for you during their holidays?

If you’ve booked to go out on Christmas day, remember, everybody hates working on Jesus’s birthday. They all want to be at home with their families getting slowly drunk, eating too much and waiting for a repeat of the 1975 Morecambe and Wise Christmas Special.

A word of advice: if you do have to eat out on Christmas Day, book to eat early. If last orders is 2.00pm, do not book for 1.45pm. By this time, complete fed upness has hit all the staff, they all want to go home, they all want a drink, the last thing they want to do is watch you and your family enjoying themselves while they just stand there willing you to leave as soon as possible. Every smile will be forced, sarcasm will be at its highest, the chefs will be screaming at servers to get food out, tempers will be lost and families will be sat at home waiting for the workers to get home so that they’re Christmases' can begin, 10 hours after yours.

In a nutshell, these are some things to think about if you are doing a Christmas get together this year or in the future. 

Remember though - you could always have a get together round your own home. I will do your cooking and clearing up. Bring your own booze, you’ll save a fortune and your sanity.

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