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Cambridge restaurant group explain challenges facing food industry

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Beer Braised Ox Cheek
Beer Braised Ox Cheek

The food industry is facing a tough year as Jessica Donnithorne, brand developer, Cambscuisine, explains.

There is no doubt that the UK restaurant industry is on the verge of a big squeeze. I don’t mean to sound melodramatic, but now that the Christmas festivities are over, it is clear there are some big factors influencing the price and quality of what we will eat in 2017.

Firstly, food prices are set to rise by two per cent this year. The second factor is the National Living Wage, which will go up from £7.20 to £7.50 in April. Thirdly, business rates are due to increase dramatically. With these three factors at play, it’s no surprise that Greene King has announced it is facing an increase in cost pressures of more than £30 million over the next three years. This means only one thing for national chains and independents alike – prices will have to go up.

The numerous tipping and service charge scandals that took place in 2016 intensify matters since many businesses, which kept service charges instead of giving them to staff, may soon no longer be able to.

At Cambscuisine, all tips and service charges go directly to our staff. But what does that really mean? Well, cash and credit card tips are managed by a tronc system which is divided between all restaurant staff. Some 27.5 to 40 per cent of the tips go to ‘back of house’, depending on which restaurant you visit, with the rest distributed among ‘front of house’.

Cash tips aren’t taxed so it’s up to the individual to declare their earnings. Credit card tips, on the other hand, must pass through our payroll, so the team member will pay income tax and both the team member and we will pay National Insurance contributions.

Some competitors don’t operate a tronc system, meaning front-of-house staff operate sections and keep the tips from their respective areas. We’ve chosen to steer clear of this system as it doesn’t promote the right attitude to teamwork.

Stories have reached our ears from competitors in Cambridge of waiters refusing to run drinks to a table because it’s ‘not my section’ and sulking when a Chinese or Japanese customer sits in their section as they presume they won’t tip.

I honestly believe we have come to the fairest solution to a very complex tipping culture at the present time. We want to give excellent service. To do that, we have to employ great people and to attract and retain these people we have to pay them well.

There are two options here: either we pay them the National Living Wage supplemented by tips and service charge, as we do presently, or we guarantee them a fixed salary (much higher than their current base rate of pay) which is partially made up of tips and service charge.

We are contemplating the latter and a fair way of administering such a system – for instance, if gratuities exceeded the amount budgeted into salaries the excess would be paid to staff as a bonus at the end of the financial year. And if it fell short, the company would take the loss.

It’s still early days, but I think 2017 may bear the brunt of our country’s decisions last year. One thing’s for sure, prices are going up.

Businesses that plan well will surely ride out these changes – I just hope the independent food scene in Cambridge, which has so blossomed in recent years, doesn’t take a hit.

Cambscuisine is a group of seven local restaurants and an event catering operation.

This is a winter warmer, served at The Cambridge Chop House. Ox cheek is beautifully tender when slow-cooked and the ale gravy makes this proper comfort food.

Serves 4 | Difficulty: Medium

Ox cheeks

4 x 200g ox cheeks

2 whole carrots, peeled

2 sticks of celery

1 large onion

6 cloves of garlic

1 pint of ale

1 ½ pints of beef stock

salt and pepper


1 kg potatoes

100g unsalted butter

200g bone marrow

salt & pepper

Shallots & cabbage

500g shallots

vegetable oil

500g smoked bacon

1 savoy cabbage

knob of butter

black pepper


2 tbsp corn flour


For the Ox cheeks

1. Pre-heat the oven to 190C/170C fan/gas mark 5.

2. Season the ox cheeks and brown them in a frying pan, then put in an ovenproof dish.

3. Finely chop the carrots, celery, onion and garlic and place in the ovenproof dish.

4. Cover with the ale and stock.

5. Cover the dish with a lid and cook for 3 ½-4 hours in the oven.

For the mash

6. Peel and wash the potatoes.

7. Bring a large pan of water to the boil, add the potatoes and simmer for 15 minutes or until the potatoes are soft.

8. Meanwhile, roast the bone marrow in the same oven as the ox cheeks for 15 minutes.

9. Mash the potatoes with the butter, salt and pepper.

10. Remove bone marrow from bones and stir through the mash.

For the Shallots & cabbage

11. Peel the shallots, coat in a little vegetable oil and roast them on a tray in the same oven as the ox cheeks for 15-20 mins.

12. Meanwhile, cut the bacon into lardons and fry until crispy.

13. Shred the cabbage and add to the bacon with a knob of butter and cook for 5 minutes until soft. Season with black pepper.

To assemble

14. When the cheeks are soft and tender, remove from the oven.

15. Strain the stock into a saucepan and bring to the boil. Reduce the sauce for 5 minutes. Then check the seasoning.

16. Mix the corn flour with a little cold water to make a paste and use it to thicken the stock. Add slowly and mix to prevent lumps.

17. Return the sauce to heat and stir to check the consistency.

Keep adding corn flour until happy with sauce thickness.

18. Arrange the bone marrow mash, buttered savoy cabbage and shallots on a plate. Place the ox cheeks on the mash and cover with the beer gravy.

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