Turkey finally got its Michelin Star restaurants. I sincerely congratulate the chefs and their teams who have achieved this success. In this article, I will respond to those who try to belittle this wonderful achievement.
In my response, I will synthesize the information I got from our Gastronomy Department and professional data services provider Verimetrik, and I will add my own experiences and observations to this synthesis.
Let me remind you that the share of the food and beverage sector in tourism income did not drop below 22-23%, even though the number of foreign visitors has fallen dramatically in the past years. So, gastronomy is one of the main sectors that generate foreign currency income in Turkey. However, it is difficult to say that there is a correlation between the number of visitors and the contribution of gastronomy to tourism revenue. The fact that the share of the gastronomic sector in overall tourism income has reached its highest of all times, 23.3% to be exact, despite the drastic fall in the number of visitors during the pandemic, is either because of a calculation error or due to the characteristics of the gastronomic sector. But, no matter how high Turkish gastronomic revenue may seem, it is actually still well below the World Tourism Organization’s average of 30%.
I can clearly say that food and beverage expenditures are much higher than accommodation spending. The money you pay for eating in a restaurant is higher than the cost of one night’s stay at a hotel. Of course, restaurants and cafes have a serious advantage over hotels in terms of the total number of premises. There are nearly 150,000 companies providing food and beverage services, which creates a formal workforce of 800,000 people. But workplace and labour costs are obviously pushing the prices up.
We see a quite interesting figure when we look at the share of food and drink in total credit card spending: a climb up to 5% just before the pandemic, but then a fall to 3% from mid-2020 to March 2021, then a surge back to 5%. While gastronomy’s share in tourism revenue remains the same, the sector has actually gone through some quite difficult times, considering the decline in domestic food consumption. But as Jean-Jacques Rousseau once said, “Patience is bitter, but its fruit is sweet”. Now our restaurant too have their Michelin stars.
Let’s take a quick look at the provinces: Istanbul accounts for 40% revenue share of Turkish gastronomic market, while İzmir accounts for 15%, Antalya 13%, Ankara 12%, and Adana 8%. The rest of the country has generated only 12% of gastronomic revenue. However, 82% of our registered geographical indications are directly related to gastronomy.
The gastronomic industry in Turkey is trying to survive while striving for making a global name for itself. Now that we have MICHELIN-starred restaurants, Turkish cuisine will begin to stand out in global ratings.
I have a few humble suggestions for the industry: I try to eat at the top restaurants and cafes in Turkey to have new gastronomic experiences as much as possible. Each meal or a coffee break is actually a brand new tasting experience.
Some spend time in places they know and trust, where they can mediate and contemplate in peace while enjoying the familiar tastes. Others like to spend time in new places to increase their happiness by sharing it with others, which brings me to the most basic rule of economics:
Spending should create a sense of satisfaction in consumers so that it has an economic rationale. We see that only restaurant that strive to create a unique gastronomic survive while others that are in this business for the sole purpose of making money vanish in no time. No one would say “the food was fine” for a restaurant where they had un unhappy experience. The best food is the one you eat at the place you enjoy the most. The best coffee is the one you drink with the best conversation. The only thing that spoils a good meal and a good coffee is the lack of education of the waiting staff.
“Poor food, poor service, but high prices.”
At the beginning of last year, I had an unpleasant experience before my speech at a breakfast meeting at a venue by the Bosphorus. Tea were supposed to be served to the guests, but the waiter waiting with a tea thermos in his hand in front of the empty table would not come near our table to serve us tea. This torture went on for 15 minutes and I finally called the head waiter. “I won’t come,” he said. Because he was told to stand where he was.
We called the head waiter and he said, “I have instructed each waiter to serve his own table.” We all laughed. There was no one to serve the full table while a waiter was wating idly by the empty table. My answer was: “The rules you set should not lead to results that will make the customers unhappy.” I also told the owner of the place about this situation. My advice is to train people who can at least speak a foreign language, who are educated and most importantly, interested in this profession and can take initiative.
There are other problems as well: meals that are not served on time, coldly served coffee, wrongly cooked meat despite the fact you told the waiter how you want it, waiter who keeps coming to your table to check on you every five minutes, standing over us while eating, unbearable queue for the toilet, meals that appear to be available on the menu, but you cannot have because they tell you they are out, tiring music choices to drown out the noise of the crowd. All these problems arise as a result of restauranteurs ambition to make easy money.
I have never come across such problems in the Basque Country, where the gastronomic revenue is 30% above the European average. A great success indeed for a region that was once known for terrorism, injustice, and lack of education.
The lesson here is that restaurants must blend their own culture into universal values in order to have a multinational customer base. They cannot endure by representing a single culture alone. The foundation stone of a common culture is good morals and fairness. These places can go global by treating all their customers with reason and justice not by treating only wealthy customers better. Equality and justice should not be confused. You cannot be just and fair without taking into account factors such as the age of the customers, their attitudes, expectations, the ratio of men or women to your overall number of customers, whether they come with their children, number of customers in the smoking area, etc. All of these things require the food and beverage industry to be social, humanist, progressive and rational.
Picasso warned a retired teacher who wanted to buy one of his works, “It’s expensive. So think twice before buying it”. The teacher said, “I brought all the money I’ve saved all my life.” Picasso gave the teacher one of his most beautiful works. His friend to whom he told this story said, “Are you crazy? That painting would be worth 100 times more!”. The artist’s answer was: “But no one has ever offered me all their fortune for one of my paintings.” This story made me think of the time when I gave up on buying a new car and spent the down payment with my children in San Sebastian and Bilbao. You can always buy a car, but you cannot buy memories.
Those who want to make money by treating the wealthy preferentially will never be the true artists of this profession. Which type of customer do you prefer? Those who do not hesitate to buy expensive watches, cars, all different colours of a bag or shoes but object to the bill in a restaurant, those who are not satisfied with anything and cause problems all the time. Or those who spend their fairly earned money in a quality restaurant to have a peaceful eating experience with their loved ones?
When the industry realizes how to act justly, it will also succeed in being global.