As a chef and foodie, I have noticed a disturbing trend in locally owned restaurants. It is a shortcoming that is being allowed, not only by owners and management, but by chefs, who should be taking pride in their work and setting the standard for dining. The idea of running a restaurant should be approached with one simple ideal in mind: the customer is right and we will do what must be done to bring the best service and food to our customers. This is not always the case.
I do not think many restaurant owners and chefs go into business with the mindset of serving low quality food at high prices, but that is what is happening at an alarming rate in Syracuse and Central New York. Can a restaurant that calls itself “farm to table” really be considered “farm to table” if they are serving vegetables that are out of season? What if the restaurant is buying its food from the mega food suppliers? Would you, the consumer, be able to tell the difference? What if the restaurant’s “fresh crab cakes” are actually crabmeat from a can? Can you taste the difference?
These are some of the ways restaurants provide poor quality food to diners on a regular basis. In my opinion, the consumer has the right to know what they are getting when they order a meal.
Oftentimes, restaurant owners and cooks cut corners, make claims, use gimmicks and misrepresent products as something they are not in order to get you to buy things that aren’t what they seem. Too many times I have been to restaurants where they claim to have fresh fish and with my knowledge of food I can tell that it is a frozen product. I am all for supporting local businesses and restaurants. I am not in favor of supporting any restaurant that claims to serve something they are not actually serving.
We, the customers, should drive the industry by our desire for a better product, a certain kind of food, and an elevated quality of service — and demand restaurants to live up to our expectations. Do not settle for mediocre food service. Demand that restaurants step up their game and provide something exceptional. If the food isn’t as described or what you expected, send it back; expect the restaurant to be what they say they are.
I have found many times that restaurants will try to follow fads by lying to their patrons about being farm to table, locally sourced, or from-scratch cooking. This is flat out deception. Challenge them to prove it! Ask questions: Where does it come from? Who grew this? Who raised this beef? The restaurant must shoulder the responsibility and prove to you that they are doing what they say they are. If your “fresh” peas taste like frozen peas, than most likely they are frozen peas. If your vegetables taste bland and have no color, then most likely it is sub-par produce.
Trends in the restaurant industry are based on the customer response and the amount of money being spent at these restaurants. When a local restaurant continues to serve frozen vegetables that are void of flavor and most nutritional value — and customers continue to eat at the restaurant — others follow that practice. Other restaurants follow the trend of buying and serving frozen, flavorless vegetables.
So what trends can we create as customers? What can we say to the restaurants that are serving low-quality food and charging us too much money? There are some restaurants that take a good deal of pride in what they do. These restaurants strive to bring you the best dishes sometimes at the expense of their time and hard work. These places are sometimes overlooked due to the cost but should be rewarded for their honesty and attention to detail. These are the places in which you get what you paid for and there is no doubt that they have been honest about the process.
In my opinion and for many of my counterparts, if something costs a little more, then it’s probably fresh. Local produce costs more. Local meat costs more. The disturbing thing is that people don’t realize that you pay for better quality and fresher food. The restaurant industry is in dire straits due to a lack of knowledge, a lack of understanding that you as a patron have the power to say, “I want this to be better. I want this to be worth my money. I want this to meet my standard or I am going elsewhere.’’
So join me in going the extra mile to support those restaurants that are doing it right. It’s important to leave a place not just full, but satisfied in other ways, happy that you made the right choice and not feeling cheated when you get into your car.
– Micah McKamie