The Zen art of enjoying a terrible meal

Published on November 24, 2014

By Matt Wright

I often go out on the road seeking new places to add to the Great Food Club network. Great Food Club’s mission is to be a trusted network of top quality independent food and drink businesses, so I rarely feel comfortable adding somewhere to the website without visiting in person. I never announce that I’m from Great Food Club until after the visit.

Most places tend to be good because they have already been recommended by a member or friend. Sometimes, however, I have a not-so-good experience.

Last Saturday was a case in point. My wife and I dined at The Gun Dog in Thurlaston, Leicestershire.

First impressions were fine – lovely setting, beautiful-looking exterior, nice and busy. The interior decor was sophisticated although I thought it odd that it didn’t contain anything befitting of the pub’s name or rural history.

A shocker

It went downhill from there. We arrived at 8.30pm and were promptly seated. Our drinks took a while to arrive and then we had a long wait till our order was taken. Starters were eventually served at 9.30pm. The main course came at about 10.30pm. I don’t mind a wait for good food but that’s clearly too long. A quick look around revealed several other diners were unhappy at the length of the wait. The room seemed to be full of angry diners.

Clearly the kitchen was in trouble, which can happen even when they are trying their best. So in my eyes this wasn’t the main problem. The big problem was that the front of house made no attempt to explain that there was an issue or to apologise. They didn’t step in to help the kitchen, they just buried their heads in the sand.

When the food arrived it certainly didn’t provide the wow factor needed to overcome that sort of wait. In fact, my wife’s vegetarian curry was inedible due to a ridiculous amount of cumin. However, fair’s fair: my lamb koftas were pretty tasty and my chicken breast came with a nicely spiced sauce.

On paying I mentioned the huge wait. Again, no apology came, so we left feeling no-one cared.

How to enjoy a bad meal

The question is then, how does one enjoy a terrible meal? I mean, if you end up fuming, you’re just wasting your own time and energy, aren’t you? You’re souring your own leisure time and making things worse. So the trick is to take control. Try to relax, enjoy the wine, go with the flow and enjoy the conversation with your dining partners. Try to see the comedy in what’s happening, especially if there are shades of Fawlty Towers (there usually are). Don’t let the restaurant’s poor performance dominate. Breathe deeply. Complain by all means but don’t get mad.

Back to The Gun Dog: it has potential but the kitchen and front of house have serious issues to overcome. It’s hard to put this sort of experience down to just a one-off bad day.

I emailed the owner the day after our meal. He replied promptly to say sorry, blaming being busy and “staffing issues”.

Everyone deserves a second chance so I do hope to return and certainly hope they can overcome their problems.

This experience provides a good example of why it’s important to visit every venue before adding them to Great Food Club. It also  gives the intrepid diner valuable practice in perfecting the Zen art of enjoying a terrible meal.

Matt Wright
The author:

Matt lives in Leicestershire with his wife, two kids and dog. He is passionate about British pubs, slow food and home brewing. He founded Great Food Club (originally as Great Food Magazine) in 2010 after being inspired by local producers near his home town of Melton Mowbray - Britain's 'Rural Capital of Food'.