In most things in life you get what you pay for – but at one city restaurant hundreds of diners were able to eat at no charge for a day.
The hungry hordes wedged themselves into the New Town restaurant having seen a poster days before advertising free meals for all.
And by 5pm yesterday, Chez Jules on Hanover Street had served more than 200 people – with reservations matching that for the rest of the evening and people being turned away at the door.
“No-one gives anything away for free these days, do they?” said diner MacKenzie Harrod-Young, 32, from Murrayfield.
“I came because I wanted to try something new – it’s sometimes hard to find new places in Edinburgh.”
The free meal concept was the brainchild of well-known chef Pierre Levicky, owner of the Chez Jules bistro, who revealed he had spent thousands of pounds on 220kg of steak and 18 salmon for the event. He said: “This is just a promotion. It generates interest among people who have never been here before.”
Customers tucked into offerings of salad, saucisson and bread, followed by a choice of salmon with beurre blanc, potatoes and green beans, or chargrilled steak with fries and pepper sauce. The only catch was that alcohol and soft drinks had to be paid for.
Mr Levicky is no stranger to hard times. His chain of Pierre Victoire restaurants went into receivership in 1998 and his Chez Jules Fish restaurant, on Cockburn Street, was forced to close due to rebuilding costs in June. But he said giving food away was no indication of hard times at Chez Jules.
“We are doing very well, it’s not at all too difficult,” he said.
The giveaway is the latest attempt by Edinburgh restaurateurs to attract the crowds.
Last month, diners at chef Mark Greenaway’s No.12 Picardy Place were invited to pay what they thought their meal was worth, with a “suggested” price given as a guide.
Mr Greenaway said that from the 300 customers served, only four paid less than the guide price, about 90 paid more and the rest paid the suggested amount. He said: “It’s all about building customer confidence. These days people are so tight for cash, but if the customer is confident they will get a great meal and great service, they will come back and pay.”
At Chez Jules, the promotion showed signs of working.
Aimie Brown, 34, from Rose Street, said: “I wanted to try somewhere new and it has been good. It’s a nice concept to give away food for free. I will definitely come again and pay.”
But concerns were voiced today that the trend for such deals could see quality drop along with prices.
Malcolm Duck, chairman of the Edinburgh Restaurateurs’ Association, said he feared many customers may not return when prices returned to normal. He said: “There are so many promotions, it’s a bit of a joke and I think possibly some customers are starting to get turned off by them.”
The number of city diners also using group vouchers bought online means some restaurants may scrimp on quality to avoid losing money on the special offers, he said.
He added: “People think they will come back, but all the evidence I have seen is that they don’t. It is about looking after your regular customers and keeping standards up.”
SUCCESS ON A PLATE FOR CHEZ JULES
By DAVID McCANN
IT could be argued that the price of a free lunch is in the eating: cheap ingredients, carelessly crafted and splodged on a plate for the freeloading diner to scoff can nudge even a complimentary supper into the unpalatable.
But thankfully, at Pierre Levicky’s Chez Jules, this was a main course for which I would happily have forked out full price.
A cold meat starter with baguette and olives greeted my arrival – all attentively delivered by smiley waitresses – followed by thin cuts of lean steak doused in a rich pepper sauce and with a pommes frites side. Though perhaps a distant relative of French haute cuisine, the main course was pleasingly tasty, exhibiting none of the irksome hallmarks of a rushed job.
Service was controlled and steady, not the frantic free-for-all I might have expected with such a generous offer. All in all, for both Mr Levicky and his patrons, the occasion was nothing less than an (Arc de) Triomphe.