Running a restaurant in the 21st century.

Maybe its the weather. Maybe I’m getting old. Maybe I’m just plain grumpy. But gosh, I miss the 20th century.

My mind has been full of nostalgia after a horror weekend last week. All due to what a restaurant or cafe has come to represent in the modern age of multi media platforms and marketing world. Seemingly less and less about food and service than ever before.

It all begins a few weeks back with a person, that the government pays, ringing up to ask for a freebie for a representative of an online media publication, who is promoting a ‘region’. The person that I now pay, to deal with online reservations, social media and computer generated gumph, consults with me and I reluctantly give the go ahead.

Then the whole cyber system fails and one didn’t quite understand the other, and there wasn’t the usual flurry of high pitched emails and ‘sacre bleu’ the anointed journalists were not booked in to the cafe and the sky threatened to fall in. Then there really was a flurry of high pitched texts and emails all screaming ‘mea culpa’ louder than the last. For gods sake, is this what running a restaurant has become? It is madness. The journalists, who knew nothing of what had gone on, were quietly found a seat and fed.

But it has made me nostalgic. Remember when……
A restaurant had a set of opening hours and a phone. You made a reservation and honored it. There was no email, no DIMMI, no confusion.

If that restaurant was lucky they would be reviewed by a journalist from a newspaper. A person paid for their subjective opinion. The reviewer would come, incognito, eat, judge, pay their bill and go home to squash some words together about the experience. There was not an option for precocious ten year olds to declare on their blogs that they thought my duck breast a little underdone. Knowing ( or perhaps hoping) that their blog would be read by 10’s thousands of fascinated persons that respected his finally honed culinary opinions.

Nor was there a culture of giving everything away for the chance of having a positive paragraph in a generic article about a ’ region’ in an online publication. Articles that are all about promotion and tourism and good news stories. they were never going to say’ The incompetent bastards f*#**ed up our booking’ anyway.

But that is what it has all become. A media circus, a computerized nightmare of confusion and intrigue. Where the email has become synonymous with ‘cheques in the mail’. How often do I now here from people who didn’t honor their booking ’ Oh. Didn’t you get my email to cancel?’.

Quietly I peruse the GFG, not to be confused with the opportunistic AGFG, from 1980. Particularly looking at country restaurants that seem to need to play the game harder and give more away to secure regional exposure. Did you know there was a restaurant in Dunkeld worth mentioning, run by three enterprising farmers wives, happily showing their skills to the public. And in my beloved region a plethora of options. A Swiss chef in Chewton, the Mill in malmsbury in full flight, offerings in Daylesford, Hepburn, Gisborne. A pub on Mt Macedon with its own smokehouse.

It all seemed so simple then. Small business relying on word of mouth and their own sense of pride and professionalism. They were not judged by the architect that oversaw the fit out, they were not judged by their website, they were not required to keep an absolutely up to day menu online so that people could experience before they even got there. It was just simple. Make a call, talk to a person, go for a drive, have lunch or dinner.

How I wish it was still the same. But it is not. And I will probably be placed in the sin bin for even questioning if this is the way it should be. But in a day and age where the Age becomes a tabloid and Gina threatens no editorial independence there is a sense of ’ If you can’t beat them, join them’ as I air my grievances in a blog.

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