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Hell’s kitchen

Hell’s kitchen

Columnist Dr Shaba Nabi chronicles the downfall of a cutting-edge restaurant, whose trajectory might ring a bell with readers

I was interested to hear about the fate of a restaurant that opened in my area a few years ago. Not for its Michelin stars or cool ambience, but because of its novel membership model. 

For a membership fee of £100 per year (or £150 per year with a glass of wine or beer included), customers could dine as often as they liked, from Monday to Friday, for no extra cost. The only limitation was the availability of a table, but dining was soon expanded to include the use of the bar area to allow extra customers in. 

For the first year, customers respected the limited table settings and ate out as a treat, two or three times a year. As time passed, though, attitudes changed, partly fuelled by media coverage about the place. There was a shift in behaviour and customers started booking tables more regularly, feeling justified as they had already paid for their meal and drinks. Many would leave food uneaten as there was no incentive for them to order more frugally. 

With more customers booking tables each week but no increase in income, the owners struggled to maintain their profit margin. The chefs and waiters were expected to work harder and longer for the same income, resulting in a high turnover of staff. But the main reason for the staff leaving was the number of complaints that started to come in as it got more and more difficult for customers to book. As well as offensive comments on social media sites, some customers became aggressive when they were unable to secure a table, demanding their rights as paid-up members of the restaurant. 

Despite the diminishing workforce and increased demand for meals being served, the restaurant did everything in its power to stay afloat. The owners sent the waiting staff on weekend cookery classes to try to keep costs down, but this only led to more complaints as customers wanted to eat off the original menu. They also tried to introduce more supplements for the alcohol packages but this was rejected by the customers, who insisted they had already paid their membership fee. Eventually, the owners resorted to serving more meals as  takeaways as there were simply not enough place settings to accommodate customers who wanted a booking every week. 

Standards inevitably started slipping so it was hard to justify an increase of membership fee, even when the owners faced a 30% increase in rent and utilities. By now, a few of them were nearing retirement and, despite everything they had put into the restaurant, could see no reason to continue working so hard for little return. They lost the joy of welcoming customers at the front of house and started drinking heavily behind the scenes. This had a profound effect on the staff and no one was willing to step up and take the place of a retiring owner. Eventually, with only one owner left, and a dwindling workforce, there was no choice but to close the restaurant and let the remaining staff go. 

I hear that one of the more innovative chefs is embarking on a business venture of his own. He will use the same membership structure of an upfront annual payment but limit most customers to four meals per year. Anything more than this will have to be paid for as a supplement, but he is confident that the high quality of food will ensure people are willing to pay. 

I think I may give his new restaurant a try as I have always preferred quality over quantity, regardless of whether it’s food or something else.

Dr Shaba Nabi is a GP trainer in Bristol. Read more of her blogs here



Please note, only GPs are permitted to add comments to articles

Lise Hertel 13 April, 2023 1:14 pm

You seem to be confusing healthcare- a human right- with running a business that sells food- NOT the same at all.

James Bissett 13 April, 2023 1:20 pm

Forget Lise Hertel. Very clever article 1 michelin star 🙂

Edward Ford 13 April, 2023 2:02 pm

Hmm – not sure healthcare is a human right:

Agree a great article

David Church 13 April, 2023 2:51 pm

Brilliant analogy Shaba.
I absolutely agree, healthcare is not a ‘human right’, it is a privilege afforded to one by others.
It is a possible sign of civilised society, but still comes at a ‘contract price’, similar to the ‘Armed Forces Contract’ that entitles veterans to privileges including priority healthcare, respect, and appreciation.
If we returned to a state where ALL citizens had to do a period of National Service, perhaps including a wider range of emergency services than just the armed forces, then perhaps people might return to a state of having respect for themselves and their fellow-citizens, as well as appreciation for the services provided to them by other citizen-members of society;
instead of demanding over-egged expectations (had to get an easter reference in somewhere!) of unlimited service from others.
Caring is sharing.
And no better time to remember this than Easter’s connections with the Cross of suffering service.

Richard Greenway 13 April, 2023 4:23 pm

Great piece -a parable maybe.
Thanks Shaba

Keith M Laycock 13 April, 2023 5:50 pm

Very clever analogy.

Agree with Doc Bissett, forget Doc Hertel.

Decorum Est 13 April, 2023 9:54 pm

Humorous and accurate analogy.
Forget Lise Hertel. It’s that misguided opinion that has brought-down medical care in the UK.

Michael Green 13 April, 2023 10:05 pm

“It’s my yuman rights” said by the yob kicking down your waiting room and keying your car

Leckranee Budahn 13 April, 2023 10:48 pm

Brilliant – I was halfway into the article when I realised the analogy ha ha.

Kept thinking this restaurant was never going to work …….

Wasifali Siddiqui 14 April, 2023 7:34 am

Very well written analogy. Feel sorry for the closure of restaurant and laying off of the hardworkng last remaining staff. Hope the innovative chef with his new business plan works. The skilled staff who were used to hard work may look forward to better pay opportunities and working conditions.

Andrew Fripp 14 April, 2023 10:43 am

Thank you for your eloquent if painful analogy. The break in the analogy between your restaurant and primary care is that the restaurant was responsible for and in control of its own flawed marketing campaign. But I like turn of optimism at the end.

I am reminded of a something I heard Lord Adebowale say, the long-time chief executive of charity Centrepoint. He stated clearly how he was “not ashamed of making a profit”, because without being profitable, Centrepoint could not continue it’s great work.

nasir hannan 14 April, 2023 4:28 pm

excellent as always Shaba!

Fedup GP 14 April, 2023 6:14 pm

A few years back the chairman at Tesco was advising Mr Blair (remember him?) about healthcare – saying that it should be more like the supermarket industry (open all hours , customer convenience etc). I think it was someone from the BMA retorted that this was fine – as long as Tesco could be more like primary care – ie – pay once a year – and then take all you want.
Good article!

Slobber Dog 16 April, 2023 7:12 am

Many of the most frequent diners expect everyone else to pay for them.

Anonymous 17 April, 2023 7:46 pm

Made all the more accurate by the comment by Lise Hurty Fee Fees…
First out of the blocks to speak up for the perennially entitled !!
You couldn’t write it….but Lise could…and did!

Julia Visick 20 April, 2023 7:14 am

So clever – to anyone who doesn’t already understand why general practice is falling down, this explains it perfectly.

Christopher Castle 17 May, 2023 8:46 am

Talking about patients (often inappropriate) use of gp services has previously been taboo. It is high time we have an informed discussion on how best to use this now scarce resource.
Shabi’s article nicely sets out the issue of an ‘all you can eat buffet approach’ to GP services. It was introduced as an essential service but is used as a fundamental entitlement for any minor health whim (and many non- health related).