- Martin Amis, London Fields
Three years in to writing this blog, we didn't think we could be surprised; we were wrong. Scattered across the internet is an offer by Reform Social & Grill: lobster & a half bottle of wine for £14 (the offer is shown above, together with a screen-grab of our confirmation email). The siren call of such an offer was too good to miss, so we booked. Return tickets on the Titanic would have been better value. We know why lunch offers are made, loss leaders, the hope of up selling, extras and the spread of fixed overheads across a larger customer base; better to have a full restaurant right? Accordingly, the offer as advertised is good, but not too good to be true (so I thought).
Up front, we should say that the manager Giovanni, after we registered our complaint, came to address our issue and did the best he could; the end result was that no charge was made for the meal. We clashed on ideologies however and ultimately he acquiesced, but then, I was the customer after all. Of course, I think I'm right, but feel free to judge. I liked Giovanni, he was reasonable, but if restaurants were a game of poker, he had just been dealt seven two offsuit, there's only so much you can do with that.
So the deal was this: having booked the above offer, and thinking that I was walking into the Reform to dine on lobster, chips and a half bottle of wine for £14 (I know, I know, a good deal), I hadn't properly read the small print. Despite the headlines, and a confirmation email, I was told on ordering that it was not lobster, but a lobster burger.
That said, as one to take a blow on the chin, and for £14, for a meal that was in any case an experiment, I can live with it, so I shrugged and didn't mind. Lobster burger, £14, hey, why not. The shocker however, the real punchline to this tale of woe, was that the lobster burger was later described as containing exactly: lobster 33%, crayfish 33%, pollock 33%. How was this possibly a 'native lobster burger' as described on the menu? Having expected something like Burger & Lobster's magnificent lobster roll, I was speechless when this bland patty of nothingness arrived. It tasted of nothing, really nothing and how would you possibly verify it even had 33% lobster in, you certainly couldn't taste it. Did I mention, it tasted of nothing?
To recap then, I sat down expecting lobster and chips and now I was eating a pollock burger. I debated this with Giovanni. "it's not a pollock burger" he said. But if it is 33% lobster, and 33% pollock, why is it any more a lobster burger than it is a pollock burger? The logic was damning. If this was a lobster burger, it was equally a crayfish burger or a pollock burger. Of course, lobster sounds better. Crayfish and pollock are only declared by the waitress, not the menu, and even then, not percentages, you are only told that the lobster burger contains crayfish and pollock so the patty can keep its form (and I even missed that, amnesia perhaps, which I can only put down to the shock of a rug being pulled from under my feet).
With 33% lobster, 67% something else, Giovanni informed me "legally, we're allowed to call it a lobster burger". If to your customers you have to resort to "legally, we're allowed to..." then really, you've already lost the argument. I'm a diner, a customer, not a lawyer, and this is not a court of law. The dining room at Reform seats about 60+ people at a guess. My dining companion for the day, @cityjohn and I were the only two customers in the whole restaurant. Legally then you might be right, but an empty restaurant says your customers don't want to eat this shit. Giovanni tells me au contraire, it's very popular; even after they've eaten it I wonder?
For £14, the wine was not bad, and the chips were good, thick cut and cooked pretty decent, but if I sign up for lobster, and that's the real and only reason I'm here, and the menu states 'native lobster burger', I don't expect to find myself eating pollock and crayfish as 66% of what's on my plate. They have a beefburger on the menu also, should we reasonably assume then that this too is only 33% beef and 66% something else because legally, that's all that they need? Nay.
This was, in my opinion, the most cynical manipulation of a menu description that we have encountered since starting the blog. Had the manager not pointed out that it was legal, and I'm sure he's right (after all, we now get horse meat in crispy pancakes instead of beef), I would have questioned its legality, but as Chapman said as long ago as 1654, 'the law is an ass'.
Two weeks after publishing this post, Reform Social & Grill continue to have a board outside the restaurant that advertises "Steak or Lobster with chips and a half bottle of wine - £14"
I enquired of the restaurant whether they had modified the offer to include a lobster rather than a lobster/crayfish/pollock burger. They replied
We haven't changed the offer's label as we ensure that guests are aware of what it includes at site and via 3rd parties.
We'll leave readers to make up their own minds as to whether this is misleading advertising or not.