Diners demand transparency in food prep outsourcing, survey reveals

TOTTchannel4In the wake of Channel 4 documentary Tricks of the Restaurant Trade which claimed to be ‘lifting the lid’ on industry secrets, Harden’s – the survey-driven restaurant guide and review site – asked consumers what they really think about outsourced food preparation.

The Ch 4 programme, presented by Simon Rimmer along with Kate Quilton and Adam Pearson, implied it was surprising how many UK chains (like PizzaExpress, Leon and Frankie & Benny’s) use pre-prepared food from centralised kitchens and outside caterers.

The theme was immediately picked up by other media, from The Daily Mail (“Is your restaurant dish really a ready meal”) to Vanessa Felz on BBC Radio London. But the latest Harden’s poll of its users, in which 184 people took part, suggests customers are by no means completely naïve on the matter.

  • 99% of customers are fully aware of outsourcing across the industry.
  • 89% said chains outsourcing basic materials like pizza dough and sauces was acceptable, while just 11% said they objected to the practice no matter what.

However, despite this acceptance, customers generally demand a high level of transparency:

  • Only 20% of diners said they were prepared to judge “by what’s on the plate at the end of the day”.
  • 45% said there should be “total disclosure” between the restaurant and the diner as to which elements of a meal are not prepared on-site.
  • 35% said there should be disclosure when the whole dish is pre-prepared by a third party.

When it comes to independent restaurants charging over £50 per head, customers are predictably less forgiving of any offsite elements to the catering.

  • 71% of survey respondents said they expect all food preparation to be done on-site for independent, £50+ per head dining destinations (although 73% would accept some level of offsite preparation if the result “tastes great”).

Interestingly ‘value for money’ is not a major consideration expressed by consumers when asked under what circumstances outsourcing is acceptable for an independent restaurant.

  • Only 10% of diners unconditionally said it was an acceptable practice if the end product tastes good and delivers better value for money
  • 27% said that food prep outsourcing is not acceptable under any circumstances at an independent restaurant. Q: How widespread do you think outsourcing practices are in the catering industry?

 

Results in full

Q: How widespread do you think outsourcing practices are in the catering industry?

32% Widespread throughout the industry

67% Widespread among chain and cheaper restaurants

1% Not widespread

Q: Do you object to chain restaurants serving food that is not 100% made on-site?

49% No it’s a chain after all

40% Yes, except for basic materials (dough, sauces, etc)

11% Yes

Q: When eating out at an independent restaurant charging over £50 per head, do you expect all food to be prepared on-site?

71% Yes

26% Yes, except for basic materials (bread, sauces, stocks, filleted fish)

3% No

Q: If the end product tastes great, is it okay for an independent restaurant to serve bought-in food?

10% Yes, if it means better value for money

20% Yes, except for basic materials (bread, sauces, stocks, filleted fish)

43% Yes, so long it’s just basic items bought in, and most preparation is on the premises

27% No, I expect all significant preparation to take place on the premises

Q: Should restaurants be required to reveal to customers which menu items rely on bought-in ingredients?

45% Yes, there should be total disclosure

35% Yes, but only when the whole dish is pre-prepared by a 3rd party

20% No, I judge by what’s on the plate at the end of the day

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