Last Friday, my wife and I found ourselves in a situation that we’d almost forgotten about. As we waved goodbye to my Mum and step-Dad, we realised that we had 2 nights ahead of us without our two children. This was the first time we’d had a ‘night off’ in 18 months, so we were determined to make the most of it!
Finding ourselves in Cheshire Oaks, we had a multitude of options in front of ourselves.
Charlie is a big fan of steak, and with Miller & Carter being referenced as a more premium pub experience so frequently in focus groups, we thought we would go and see if it lived up to its reputation. We approached with very few expectations, and we're just hopeful of getting a nice table, enjoying some good food and wine, and being able to enjoy a meal with 2 young kids attacking us!
Or so it should have been!
With 3 or 4 members of staff buzzing around the bar, we felt sure that we’d be served in no time. But after 5 minutes of avoiding eye contact, Charlie decided to get up and walk to the other side of the bar until someone would acknowledge our presence! After that, the drinks did come quickly, and we happily settled into a good catch up at the stylish bar – it was like old times, ahhhh!
Feeling rather peckish, we then did the unthinkable. We asked to order food whilst being sat at the bar. This caused consternation. The bartender said he’d check if it was possible. A server was brought into the debate. Finally, the friendly host from earlier – quite possibly the manager/assistant manager – was called over to make the final decision.
Computer says no.
Apparently, it is not possible to order food at the bar, so we collected our drinks and walked the 10 metres to our table, at which point we waited a further 10 minutes for someone to come over and take our order. Infuriating and ridiculous – quite probably not the fault of the team at the restaurant on the night, but a crazy example of process getting in the way of a great experience.
From that point on, things did get better, as our server was excellent. She was warm, friendly and knowledgeable, brought our food in good time (that balance of long enough to be cooked fresh, but not too long), and engaged in just the right way.
Miller & Carter talk about being Masters of Steak, and they certainly delivered, with a perfectly cooked ribeye satisfying a very demanding customer!
Whilst the experience was all focused around the steak, I did feel that a couple of the elements of their brand vision could have been brought to life in a more vibrant way. M&C people should be Steak Geeks, and the only time we had any sense of that was when our server suggested Charlie’s ribeye was cooked medium because of the marbling in the ribeye – pretty well-known info, but well delivered.
Aside from this, there was very little to prove their passion for steak. The website talks about the steak’s journey, but we saw nothing about that in the actual restaurant. With the red carpets and dark furniture, we really could have been in any upper-mid range pub or casual dining restaurant.
Miller & Carter has been one of the pub-restaurant category’s greatest successes in recent years, and it’s easy to see why – they have a distinct position and deliver it with strong consistency. But to me, it felt a little too rigid, and I would have some concerns that as competitors up their game, Mitchells & Butlers might need to think about how they take Miller & Carter to the next level.