Teasing the customer back

When is a scallop not a scallop?

When growing up in Yorkshire, ordering the ‘scallop’ – a deep-fried, layered fish and potato cake – was the value option at my local fish and chip shop because it was significantly cheaper than going for a cod or haddock with my chips.

Only later, when frequenting smarter restaurants, did I come across the alternative scallop, the softly textured mollusc that you will no doubt be more familiar with. Now, just imagine you’d ordered this shellfish variety and then found, to your dismay, the waiter delivered you the fried battered potato cake. I’m guessing you’d be pretty shocked, feel a bit short-changed, and never return to the venue.

When the Eat Out To Help Out (EOTHO) scheme was announced, I harboured some concerns about similar own goals when various venues began to promote menus specifically created for the scheme. Would they be looking to engineer out any value in the meal and deliver something that was merely imitating a great deal?

Such a scenario was played out some years ago with Groupon. For many restaurants, their offering with Groupon involved a menu created specifically for the promotion. This often meant it bore no relation to the dishes typically found on the restaurant’s regular menu. I once ended up being served much smaller portions than normal while, on other occasions, I was given vastly inferior dishes to what the restaurant would typically serve. Ultimately, it was all a complete waste of time for all concerned.
Clearly in the case of EOTHO, the chancellor is chipping in £10 but these are very tough times so I still held some concerns. Hawksmoor was quickest out of the traps with its steak and chips offer for £20, which set the customer back a mere tenner when the 50% discount was applied. This is a classy operator and it made it clear this dish was on its regular menu for £30 and the meat would weigh the same 300g, so it was pretty clear this represented a terrific deal. This was recognised by the public and an incredible 15,000 bookings were taken for the 13 days of the scheme.

I was too late to take up this particularly tempting offer but I did book dinner at Trishna in London’s Marylebone where a special EOTHO offer had also been devised. This was a three-course set menu priced at £20 and, therefore, cost the customer a mere £10. This seemed an incredible deal and even more so when it also included a variety of poppadoms with chutney’s and petit fours to finish.

Like Hawksmoor, Trishna is run by a top-notch operator, JKS Restaurants, so I needn’t have worried about this offer being a watered-down affair in any way whatsoever. But to make it stack up the business was very clever with the menu. It was a world away from swapping seafood scallops for Yorkshire chippie scallops but its three courses – comprising aloo chat, chicken biryani or mushroom pilau along with dal, naan breads and raita, as well as a dessert of kulfi – were economically very well constructed. And, with its excellent spicing, it was one of the best value, tastiest meals I’ve eaten in a long time.

It has been very pleasing to find my initial concerns were very wide of the mark and I’ve not come across any operators being overly cute with their menus and trying to take advantage of the scheme. In reality, it has not really been about the food at all, it has been about prompting people to venture out and gain confidence again in eating and drinking out of home. To this end, EOTHO has been a phenomenal success, with many operators achieving record levels of trade in the early part of the week and for some it has helped their businesses return to levels not dissimilar to those enjoyed pre-covid.

Never would I have imagined having to queue for breakfast at 9am on a Monday morning outside the JD Wetherspoon in Sittingbourne, Kent. But, for once, I was more than happy to join the line and again play my very modest part in EOTHO. And with no fried potato scallops masquerading as shellfish on any menus, I know it is clear the foodservice industry has played its part exceedingly well in the scheme and maybe some things will be learned from the exercise that can be applied in the future.

Glynn Davis, editor of Retail Insider 

This piece was originally published on Propel Info where Glynn Davis writes a regular Friday opinion piece. Retail Insider would like to thank Propel for allowing the reproduction of this column.