The local food scene is growing faster than you can fry an egg, and it’s interesting to watch how the market is evolving with it. With a new restaurant popping up almost every day, businesses fight for elbow room within their chosen demographic. It’s no longer enough that your flavors are spot on; you also need to worry about staying relevant to the Instagram-savvy generation. You discover how, in this age of social media, every little detail is nitpicked, dissected and discussed online.
Now, everybody is a food critic with apps and blogs empowering a highly opinionated dining public to share their experiences. And this, judging from the abundant reviews posted every day, people have taken to with much (and sometimes rabid) enthusiasm.
With hard-to-please diners sharing their sometimes harsh opinions online, it leads us to ask the question: Have we become spoiled?
Hank*, a blogger/TV host, admits that we might be but only to a certain extent. “There are certain cuisines that are already saturated,” he says. “There’s really so much talent here. Like in French food, we have Marc [Aubry of Champetre in BGC] and Cyrille [Soenen of Impressions and Brasserie Ciçou]. You eat their food and it’s like you’re eating in France. Same with Mexican food. A couple of years back, I had visited a family in San Francisco, and I had to make the trip to the Mission District for my Mexican food fix. Last year, when I visited again, I didn’t feel the need anymore because I’m happy with our Mexican restaurants here.”
“I think Filipinos are used to being catered to, especially the older generation. It’s not uncommon for a guest at a buffet to tip a waiter generously so they can fetch plates of food for them. Even at fast food joints, we don’t clean up after ourselves, although that’s supposed to be the case.”
Food blogger and entrepreneur Kaye*, though, does not share his excitement over the local food scene in terms of food quality. “I think we still have a long way to go,” she cautiously admits, “compared to our Southeast Asian neighbors. In Thailand, my gosh, even the street food is so good! Here, too often, you get what you pay for, so if you want to be wowed by flavors, you need to spend.”
Although Kaye believes that our choices here are limited, Filipinos expect to be compensated with excellent service, regardless if it’s a fine dining establishment or a fast food chain. “I think Filipinos are used to being catered to, especially the older generation. It’s not uncommon for a guest at a buffet to tip a waiter generously so they can fetch plates of food for them. Even at fast food joints, we don’t clean up after ourselves, although that’s supposed to be the case.”
This sense of entitlement is not lost on Jacques*, a foreigner chef and owner of a French bistro who has been a Manila resident for almost three decades. Having served the country’s elite in his restaurants and in a five-star hotel where he first worked, he recalls how some members of the polished set are capable of appalling behavior. “I was standing behind a Sunday lunch buffet, carving a beef roast. This being Easter Sunday, we were very busy and, as you would expect, a line had formed. I was taking care of a guest when a matrona cut in line and shoved her plate at me. I told her to go to the end of the line and wait for her turn. Her reply was something along the lines of ‘Don’t you know who I am?’ I did know who she was but I felt that regardless of her perceived standing, she should, as courtesy requires, wait for her turn. She made a bit of a scene until her children pulled her away.” Jacques admits that although he now laughs at the memory, back then he didn’t find it so funny.
“I guess it’s because people here are used to flexibility and being served so they believe they are entitled to it. However, put them in the same exact scenarios in New York or Europe and they will be less demanding. It’s like how we are bad drivers locally because we know we can get away with it. However, when we are abroad, we obey all the rules for fear of being pulled over by cops.”
Young restaurateur and TV personality Kerwin* is also at that point where he has yet to forgive demanding diners. He thinks Filipino diners are spoiled but only because our culture condones this behavior. “I guess it’s because people here are used to flexibility and being served so they believe they are entitled to it. However, put them in the same exact scenarios in New York or Europe and they will be less demanding. It’s like how we are bad drivers locally because we know we can get away with it. However, when we are abroad, we obey all the rules for fear of being pulled over by cops.” He also calls us what seems to be class-based prejudices. “Filipinos are rude to [fellow] Filipinos. It’s a very strange thing. When a waiter tries to make conversation or gives his opinions locally, a lot of people here will find that annoying and out of place. However, if it happens abroad, it’s appreciated. Customers here rarely say thank you and look at waiters or cooks in the eyes.”
Jacques though is careful to point out that this kind of spoiled behavior is not the norm and that “we should not generalize.” Still, some restaurateurs admit that Filipino diners actually put up with a lot of the industry’s shortcomings. Mars*, a restaurateur and kitchen consultant, empathizes with local diners and points out, “Customer service here in the Philippines leaves a lot to be desired. Many establishments forget this particular aspect of the business, leaving customers unsatisfied. Coupled with Pinoys being generally timid and shy to voice their complaints or opinions, this results in poor service and complacent staff and management.” It is a refreshing statement coming from a restaurateur, but he is quick to note, “Well, I was also a customer first before becoming a restaurant owner.”
Based on these inputs from both sides, a little open communication between the service industry and its customers would do us a lot of good. Perhaps it is best to articulate how far restaurant owners are willing to go to please their guests. At the same time, customers need to put themselves in the shoes of these chefs and owners.
“Having people in your restaurant is a bit like having them come to your home,” says Jacques. “When you go to someone’s home, you don’t usually ask him or her to cook like his or her neighbor. I go to this or that restaurant to discover the chef’s style of cooking; I would not dare tell him what to do.”
*Names have been changed
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