Handing Over Control

September 26th, 2013

I was talking about Rene Redzepi’s talk at the NBC last night and had a realisation, that perhaps is not staggering or new but was probably worth writing down.

Rene remarks that people have no objections to being fed live ants, but get very angry when you stop them from having milk in their coffee. From the outside it does look a little crazy, and you would think that the best restaurant in the world should be able to serve everything exactly as they want it.

What I think is missing from this dynamic is the idea of control. When you eat at a restaurant like Noma your meal begins when you hand over control to the chefs. This is the glorious part of it – you are entirely in their hands, to experience food as they see it or as they want you to see it. You’ll be adventurous because you the experience leads you to believe that your trust in them won’t be abused and they won’t serve you something that will make you unhappy.

Then there is a moment in the meal that a restaurant hands back control to the guest. Typically the food has finished and the experience is coming to a close. It is usually signified with something along the lines of:

“Would you like anything else? Perhaps some coffee?”

From this point on the guest is in control of their own destiny and making decisions, and when we deny them milk with their coffee we are implying that we think they have made a poor decision. We are criticising them. They tend to react badly when they feel criticised for asking for something they habitually enjoy and consider to be good.

This isn’t really a post about how Noma should just make coffee a course, not an optional addition – though I think they would encounter way less resistance in getting people to experience the coffee exactly as they want.

This is about looking for moments when a guest places their trust in us, places control of their experience in our hands. It is also about realising that most of the time people feel (quite rightly) that they are in control and our objections are heard as criticisms and judgement of who they are.

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