Cape Town restaurants: can we become world class?


A recent blog post by chef, Eat Out Top 10 restaurant judge and owner of Wild Woods restaurant, Pete Goffe-Wood, is the inspiration for evaluating how ready Cape Town’s restaurants are for the World Cup, a mere three months away today, and for becoming world class.

Goffe-Wood wrote that the local restaurant industry is “teetering on the brink of greatness”, and encouraged his colleagues to “make the leap” to offer the “foreign market waiting to be fed, educated and entertained and we must make sure that we give them what they came for”.    Goffe-Wood identified complaints about high food and wine prices, poor service, and inconsistent food quality as being reflective of problems facing the restaurant industry.

He explained how wine-markups of 200 %, whilst creating outrage, are the norm, and that restaurants have to follow wine producers when they increase their prices every year.   Goffe-Wood is critical about the lack of restaurant reviews in “print media”.  He believes that the industry needs “positive input from informed and educated sources”.   Service , he says “is not to be subservient”, and he seeks a “more professional attitude towards the service we provide”.

So what do we as customers say to restaurants in response to Goffe-Wood’s self-analysis, and to guide them to greatness:

1.  First, well done Pete, for acknowledging that not all is perfect, and for wanting to lift the standard for the restaurant industry in Cape Town.

2.  We expect consistency in a restaurant’s food quality, service, and value-for-money, plus an attractive and interesting decor, and an undefined feel-good factor of “I like it here – this is a restaurant for a person like me – I will be back”.

3.  Please answer your phones when we call to make a booking, rather than letting us speak to an answering machine, which may or may not return our call.  Have friendly staff that understand the language we speak, and that can spell a basic name like “Chris”!   Even better, recognise and acknowledge our voice as regulars when we call

4.   Trust us as customers when we have made bookings at your restaurants – confirmation calls are soooo irritating.  Allow a 15 – 30 minute cut-off time, for late arrivers, and then offer the table to the next walk-in.  By all means ban customers if they are habitual late-arrivers, or even worse, non-arrivers!

5.  Retain your staff – we see staff turnover even in the best of establishments, and it is often the staff relationships that maintain the relationship consistency and that influence the service perception we have of your restaurants.  Please do not let your new waiter train on me!   Start an industry initiative, to not appoint the waiter/kitchen person running off (often without notice) from one restaurant to another.

6.  Train your staff – start with the wines.  When the waiter does not understand the word “vintage”, I shudder, and wonder why you did not start at the beginning with your training, or why your winelist cannot list this important detail.

7.  Why do we as patrons have to pay the salaries of your staff via tips?  It is the only industry where the onus lies on the client to make such a payment.  Almost two years ago the Department of Labour promulgated the Sectoral Determination for the Hospitality Industry, and it demands that staff be appointed on a full-time basis, with a monthly salary.  I know of few restaurants where this legal requirement is being applied. 

8.  Charge fair prices.  It’s tough for everyone at the moment.  Price increases of up to 50% (Reubens) and exorbitant World Cup prices (Beluga and Sevruga) alienate customers and make you look greedy.  The days of hoping that tourists alone will fill your coffers because of their foreign currency are over. 

9.   The marketing of restaurants is very poor.  Blond sexy “poppies” in ads does not crack it for most of us!  Few restaurants have websites, and the fewest restaurants seem to understand search engine optimisation, in making sure that patrons can find more information about their restaurants on the internet.   If one does a Google search, restaurant websites often are ranked lower than reviews written about them by industry websites such as Eat Out, or by bloggers.   This means that prospective clients are not hearing the restaurant marketing message directly.   The fewest restaurants in Cape Town understand the power of Social Media (Pizza Club, Cafe Max, Nook Eatery, Arnold on Kloof and Jardine are the few on Twitter) and Goffe-Wood Twitters and blogs very occasionally only.  I am not aware of any restaurant which has an integrated social media marketing strategy! 

10.   Your customers have become your reviewers, horror of horrors, and they say it as it is.  No more white-washing, no more ‘incestuous’ relationships between reviewers wishing to remain best mates with the chefs.  Bloggers are evaluating restaurants as the man/woman in the street would experience them, and the more honest they are in writing about what they experience, the more their evaluations are valued.   Banning them from your restaurants, as Le Quartier Francais, Carne and Beluga have done, if they have given you a critical review or feedback, is not productive, and it means that the restaurants will not improve if they cannot accept feedback.

11.  Treat us with honesty – do not con us with a marketing claim on your website, that is not true – as does Carne, which claims that all its meat is organic and comes from the Karoo, which has proven to be not true.  The dishonest claim remains on the website!

Restaurant patrons will forgive a restaurant many sins if they feel comfortable and “at home”; if they feel respected, even if the feedback provided is not always positive, provided in the interest of making it better;  if they are kept up to date with information from the restaurant; and if restaurants learn to say thank you for regular patronage, for a review, or for business sent to them by a regular client.  Not too much to ask, is it?!

Chris von Ulmenstein, Whale Cottage Portfolio:

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7 replies on “Cape Town restaurants: can we become world class?”

  1. massimo says:

    thanks for mentioning the Pizza Club. our twitter (@pizzaclub_hb) is becoming quite popular and it’s an easy (and cheap!) way for us to let know our daily specials.
    I have always been a fan of internet (on my former life i was in IT), mainly because in 1997 i meet Tracy in one of the first online chat rooms!

  2. daz says:

    Well done Chris……but it will be like banging your head against a brick wall, its not as if they are listening to you or anyone else for that matter….

  3. Roger Cook says:

    Good evening Chris – enjoyed the article and generally concur with the comments. Whilst I agree with the comment about customers as reviewers, I think comments from people like you and me (as wonderful as we are) slightly skew things. There are a great many consumers, who although have access to the internet), see themselves as having better things to do with their lives than to review restaurants online (they simply don’t go back to the places and tell their peers face to face – can you imagine?!!). There are also those who don’t have access. Finally, my friends (whoops almost spelt fiends) in CT tell me that Capetonians have a terrible habit of making multiple bookings for the same night and then decide at the last minute whether they now fancy sushi or not. That’s probably why the restaurants enjoy doing a ring round to check that we still intend to honour the booking. Must admit that I am quite skatty and therefore the telephone confirmation reminds me which wonderful restaurant I will be eating at this evening! Must introduce you to some of my dining companions – they simply revel in trying to teach “waitrons” (don’t you hate that description?) how to do their job. Always reminds me of that phrase – “those who can’t do teach.” We are never going to meet if you keep getting yourself banned from my favourite places! Quite like Beluga so feel their pain at being double bitch slapped this evening – if I wasn’t leaving on Sunday I would drown many half price cocktails on Sunday to numb the pain.

  4. Thank you Massimo, Darren and Roger for your support and comments.

    Roger, I am intrigued about your Beluga comment – can you elaborate on the last sentence please?

    Darren, I agree, but even if just one restaurateur has taken one point out of the list presented, then we have made a little progress. Jardine’s Wilhelm Kuehn talked to me about restaurants’ ‘Return on Ego’ (not related to Jardine of course)this evening, which is what it seems to be about for many restaurants!

  5. Roger Cook says:

    I meant that i enjoy Beluga – especially the half price cocktails and sushi on Sunday lunchtimes. The pain comes from both the usual Sunday hangover and from them being accused of world cup greed and oversensitivity to bad reviews (not saying your comments aren’t valid – just like Beluga a lot). I’m just sorry that my flight to the UK on Sunday means I will have to forgo.

  6. restaurant marketing…

    On Monday I read your Cape Town restaurants: can we become world class? | Whale … site ,giving me a good experience of all the information and news at your restaurant marketing site….

  7. darren says:

    Visited wild woods tonight for the second time, much improved from my first visit and a good amount of customers and happy vibe for a tuesday night. It important that the locals are loyal to this place as the food is good bistro food for less than 100 rand for a main course.

    And Chris you will be pleased to hear that the miserable manager has left and has now been replaced by a friendly scotsman from St James.

    They just need to work on the winelist a little, prices are good but a very small selection particularly on the sauv with only 2 choices.

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