Tuesday, 10 August 2010

Progress and the Unreasonable Man

I was at Kew Gardens at the weekend enjoying a particularly sunny London day. When it came to lunchtime a debate broke out over whether the restaurant prices were reasonable. Some felt they were too high - far too high. I erred on the side of considering the special case for this particular venue.

Two quotes came to mind:

George Bernard Shaw suggested that “the reasonable man adapts himself to the world; the unreasonable one persists in trying to adapt the world to himself. Therefore all progress depends on the unreasonable man.”

Whilst Ella Wheeler Wilcox pleaded “Don’t look for the flaws as you go through life; and even when you find them, it is wise and kind to be somewhat blind, and look for the virtue behind them.”

Who is right? I don’t know. Both, I suspect.

I didn’t want my sunny day spoilt with carping over restaurant prices, yet if everyone felt the same way motorway service stations would still be horrific places to eat (which these days they are not always).

Maybe what is most important is doing something about it. If prices are genuinely unreasonable then having a moan over lunch will achieve little, whereas writing to the CEO of the catering company, telling the local newspaper, blogging about it and telling all your friends might. Or setting up a competitive eatery half a mile away.

So perhaps progress depends on the men of action, however reasonable or unreasonable they may be. However, when one discovers that Oliver Peyton has recently been awarded the catering contract for Kew, and that all the restaurants and self-service cafes will be refurbished within a year; prices seem a little more understandable. And the food a little more palatable.


  1. I think that men are generally more unreasonable than women. But I suspect that isn't what you meant.

    Oliver Peyton is a man and the prices in his very pleasant (but not beyond criticism)restaurant in St James's Park are quite reasonable, given that in the service restaurant the food is of Good Food Guide standard. But if he is replacing a more ordinary facility at Kew with a similar restaurant to Inn the Park, I am quite sure that the prices will go up. The issue, then, is whether one is comparing like with like.

    The restaurant trade is plagued with inconsistency. Restaurants like Galvin's Bistrot de Luxe manage to produce first rate food at reasonable (in terms of quality) prices whilst places like Sketch http://www.sketch.uk.com/downloads/lecturecarte.pdf seem to get away with charging the earth (Matthew Fort once reviewed Sketch and gave it 0 points because of the prices). In between there are places like Koffmans in which a master chef charges £22.50 for a 3 course lunch or Gordon Ramsay and Le Gavroche which charge more than double that for a slightly longer lunch.

    Preparing really good food is a time consuming business and first rate ingredients are expensive; maybe, like management, the issue is when to satisfice and when to heed the call to action.

  2. Did someone mention food? I've just had dismal dim sum am on the side of the reasonable man in this instance, as it's the experience that matters, not the cash (if you're eating out let's assume you're not on the breadline), and if the food is less than perfect hopefully the company will make up for it. Unfortunately for me, my dismal dim sum was made even less palatable by the relentless stropping of a grumpy teenager, mentioning no names but I think you know to whom I refer.

  3. This post has stirred lots of debate both on and offline about food and the price of it. All relevant, and all voiced with some passion. Maybe because we can't live without food, and maybe because we get such a lot of pleasure from it. I cannot help but feel that any establishment that creates the right setting for good friends and family to enjoy each other's company has a right to charge enough to make a sensible profit. They are the ones taking the risk.

    However, the post was really about how we might best approach criticism of something. There are many examples of businesses that have been built on a perceived problem in someone else's offering. Reasonable men taking action in an unreasonable world?