The Trófea Grill restaurant, centrally located at the foot of Margaret Bridge in Budapest, is a popular, fairly upscale buffet, using the all-you-can-eat-and-drink business model. It seems to attract lots of tourists, expatriates and also Hungarians who often go there to celebrate special family occasions. Whenever I’m in Budapest, I’ll invariably visit Trófea on at least a couple of occasions–it has become a tradition that I take my relatives out for a family lunch once during each annual visit to Hungary. And the restaurant’s pleasant ambience, friendly staff and selection of Hungarian and continental dishes would often draw me there for a quick lunch too, even when I’m just roaming around in the city on my own. On Saturday, one of Hungary’s most-read online publications, Index, ran a story and a video created using a hidden camera about Trófea Grill at Margaret Bridge that would undoubtedly be every restaurateur’s nightmare.
The story is about ethical business practices, or lack thereof, and the experience of a young man introduced simply as Kázmér, who used to be a regular client of Trófea Grill at the foot of Margit híd. He was even given a loyalty card to the restaurant. One day, much to Kázmér’s surprise, he was simply banned for dining at the restaurant and was told that the decision had been taken by one of the shareholders. Kázmér later arrived with a hidden camera, in order to find out why he could dine there and to record the conversation. The discovery should certainly raise some eyebrows. The restaurant’s manager was sent to speak with Kázmér and said the following:
“In your case, I say that the main shareholder of this restaurant decided that there are a few people, for this reason or for that, that we cannot host. And it’s not because you are bad people. In fact, on a personal level we have no problem with the individual at all. But there are some business expectations that must be met. In your case, the fact that you always dine on your own is an issue. That which does not make economic sense for us does not belong here. As good advice, let me suggest to you that you bring us a party of eight to ten guests and spend a good evening and dine here. If this happens more than once or twice, then I think that we can look at changing things.”
As the Index article highlights, the restaurant’s practice of turning away a client because he often dines alone, perhaps consumes too much at the all-you-can-eat and drink restaurant, and therefore does not allow for a large enough profit margin goes against the grain of Hungarian consumer protection laws. Kázmér, who appears in the video and Index interview but did not want to divulge his full name, would have a case to present at the Consumer Protection Office of the Ministry of National Development.
What happened at Trófea Grill is, unfortunately, indicative of a deeper problem when it comes to business ethics in Hungary: business owners cutting corners to the detriment of the product that they offer, and doing so in a way that is meant to be deceptive or engaging in blatantly false advertising. In the case of Trófea Grill at Margaret Bridge, we see a restaurant management that appears to be myopic. I can understand that a group of ten allows for a higher profit margin than the single diner who takes up a table for two or four on his own, and perhaps even comes to an all-you-can-eat and drink buffet with an appetite. But surely Trófea Grill understands that turning away single guests at the door, making them feel unwelcome and then in turn having to deal with the social media fall-out after the story spreads like wildfire on the internet (more than 8,000 readers shared the Index story on Facebook since it appeared on Saturday morning) is a rather ineffective and destructive practice for a restaurant so singularly concerned with its profit margin.
All of this presents to us the proverbial slippery slope. Should all-you-can-eat buffets turn away would-be diners if they are overweight, because serving them is, perhaps, not the best way to turn an ever-larger profit? Should single diners be told to return only if they come with a partner?
As disappointing as it is, I certainly won’t be taking my family again to the Trófea Grill restaurant at Margaret Bridge, nor will I ever attempt to dine their on my own again, until the restaurant’s management publicly confirms that it will not shame its clients in this manner in the future.