• Thierry Berno

The impending doom of the culinary culture

Lamenting about the long agony of the Thai F&B industry feels like labouring the point nowadays.

Famous institutions are falling like flies and despite the very few restaurants, hotels and bars that are striving the atmosphere is quite morose among restaurateurs.

We are so busy moving from one obstacle to the next that it is easy to lose sight of a greater peril. The whole culinary culture is suffering a major blow that will throw us back a few years.

Here is my humble attempt to decipher what is happening.

We are busy not cooking

In the last year and a half or so small and medium size F&B business suddenly had to learn and practice a whole new set of skills to remain visible online. This is of course enriching but we are spending a whole lot of time not cooking or experimenting. Time that used to be dedicated to R&D is now spent resizing food pictures to match every single delivery apps, reviewing third party delivery app’s obscure GP contracts, or simply watching youtube videos to learn how to master Facebook Ads Manager which are outdated 3 days after they are posted anyways.

I could go on but you get the gist. It is incredibly hard to challenge ourselves with food nowadays, or even to get the headspace that allows creativity.

We are losing talents

The lack of support from the government towards the F&B industry has been a matter of discuss and outrage. Many of us tried all we could to keep our staff but let’s face it, a lot of them had to go and either went back to their hometown or joined the rank of the delivery army.

We are losing talents and passionate people who will likely not come back to the restaurant life.

This is especially true of the service staff, who were the first to go, many of them replaced by admins. Again it takes a different set of skills to open a bottle of Champagne silently and to configure automated answers on Line Official. Some people can work out both but they are few.

If and when we fully reopen will we be able to find that qualified service staff or that passionate demi-chef? Nothing could be less certain.

We are dumbing down our food

Probably the biggest sin of all. Of which I am absolutely guilty. We are dumbing down our food.

The thing is, we have to. First of all we had to eliminate all food that doesn’t travel well.

But come to think of it the best dishes I had in my life were all made a la minute in front of me and consumed right away (I didn’t even have time for an Instagram picture in most cases). They are the dishes that conveyed all the emotion that the chef put in his/her food.

Additionally all of those dishes came with an explanation. But in this context it is nearly impossible to explain a complex dish to a customer. Attention span is shortening and with more and more competition most restaurants are relying on over saturated pictures or short videos to catch customers (Again guilty of both)

Finally it is common practice to remove menus that are not selling. We had to force ourselves to not to remove some dishes because we don’t want to have only burgers and pizzas but eventually this is probably what we will be left with. Of course we would love to have truffle pumpkin Fagottini on the menu, but our burgers sold out before we even sold one plate of it.

Where is the etiquette ?

Those who reopened after the imposed shutdown will tell you. It didn’t take long to customers to forget the etiquette of dining out. Sure “customer is king” but even a king (should have) some manners. Etiquette is a big part of the culinary tradition. It is something we learn, practice and can also be forgotten.

We are paying the Panda Tax to finance Tech companies.

My soi has a little shop making a nice Krapao. Nothing remarquable about that, most Soi have one of those stalls. That dish used to be 40 baht. It is now available solely on Foodpanda at 65 baht + 10 baht of delivery. On the positive side the dish now has a nice picture online and a decent packaging. The shop still makes 40 baht out of it. And there is now 15 baht attached to it that are going to the driver and the packaging company (fair enough). And then there is 20 baht going to a zero sum battleship game of IT companies, feeding a giant beast that is not even generating profit. 20 baht doesn't feel like much but that's 30% of the income generated by a restaurant that is reinvested in tech companies rather than being reinvested in the Food industry. That’s a hell of a tax to finance some tech battle.

Imagine those 20 baht spent on quality ingredients upgrade instead or the opening of another branch.

I am done for now. I will put on the Doors on the LP player. Might be a bit overly dramatic but that feels right at the moment.

“This is the end
My only friend, the end
Of our elaborate plans, the end
Of everything that stands, the end”
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