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Food For Thought: Absentee Landlords

Too many Raymonds spoil the broth

Written by . Published on January 31st 2012.

Food For Thought: Absentee Landlords

I AM in two minds – or should that be eight? – as to whether it is a good thing that Raymond Blanc has snapped up eight new sites in London in a bid to extend his current brasserie operations.

The concept of doing business has come down not to personality, history or individuality but anonymity, which is dangerous for any number of reasons.

Not that I do not think that Raymond will not operate these better than the next man. But London’s problem is that there are just too many absentee landlord’s. It is almost impossible these days to know who owns what, or furthermore who cares about what. And when it comes down to food, drink and service, that matters.

No way will the great enthusiast Monsieur Blanc be frequenting these gaffs without neglecting his customers at the über plush Le Manoire – set nine-course supper is £150.

Marco Pierre White is another business – not a man these days – who has more pubs than you can shake a stick at. I have no objection to skilled restaurateurs and chefs moving into a different level of business in principle. And as Marco himself used to say, his father’s advice was always: “Choose a profession where they are not too bright and you will do well, my son.” Dead right, daddy.

Marco Pierre WhiteMarco Pierre White

But a part of the appeal and culture of restaurants is that they are run by local people who serve the local community. It's about personality. And humanity and philosophy. And local foods, ideally even linked up to the local farms, if any still exist out there. Turning restaurants into corporate businesses is called catering. It is a different thing. It is not a good trade, not because of Marco and Raymond, but because of all the other absentee landlords who are not there.

Although the habit is marked in restaurants, the same is true, even worse, for pubs. It is hard to know where anyone is who actually owns the business. If you go in to your local Red Lion, there is a very nice Polish girl on the counter and usually a jolly, young manager who might be from Australia, but the landlord? Never seen him. Don’t even know who he is – although technically he should be registered on the license at the town hall somewhere while he is probably sunning himself on a beach somewhere.

The concept of doing business has come down not to personality, history or individuality but anonymity, which is dangerous for any number of reasons. It is no longer about being there and has come to be about not being there. That is a cynical turning of tables. As consumers we are just being ripped off because the high street is full of fly-by-night accountants. It is time to reclaim our high street, chaps, and chapesses. Get your names on the door and be there.

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