Britain's Best Restaurant Of 2023 Faces Verbal Abuse Accusations

Wales restaurant Ynyshir has two Michelin stars and the prestigious title of Britain's Best Restaurant 2022 by the National Restaurant Awards. Dinner at Ynyshir is complete with music curated by an in-house DJ and dishes like Peking duck, lobster, A5 beef, black cod, and bluefin tuna, and there's a waitlist for reservations. In other words, Ynyshir is kind of a big deal, and head chef Gareth Ward is at the helm. Now, Ward is facing backlash not for his menu but for his tableside manner. 

It all started back in April when diners Donna and Mark Southby came to Ynyshir with friends. According to the Ynyshir team, Donna Southby became increasingly unkind about the food as each course progressed, calling the cutlery tongs "crap," complaining about the birch smoke used as an experiential component in the restaurant, and expressing "confusion" about the unisex bathroom, per The Guardian. When Southby stepped outside to wait for the birch smoke to clear, she was told by a staff member that chef Ward had asked her not to return for the remainder of the meal.

The next morning, Donna Southby returned to the restaurant and a heated argument emerged between her and chef Ward. Southby allegedly apologized, and Ward became angered, saying she acted "like his three-year-old" and calling her a crude gendered slur. When Southby brought up her husband, Ward reportedly challenged him to a fight in the parking lot if he had anything to say to him.

The role of chefs as servers and the role of diners enjoying their food

Ynyshir does not pretend to be palatable to everyone. The restaurant's website advises, "Be aware that Ynyshir is possibly not the best place for a business meeting or an intimate first date ... We do not cater for any dietary requirements and do not offer substitutions for any of the dishes."

This isn't the first time acclaimed restaurants have been shrouded in verbal abuse allegations, either. Chef-slash-restaurateur Gordon Ramsay is at least as synonymous with his world-class cooking as the inventive insults he hurls at the cooks in "Hell's Kitchen." Momofuku chef David Chang has been accused of causing extreme verbal distress by former employee Hannah Selinger. But, the dynamic becomes a bit different when the players are chef and diner.

This incident opens up a much older conversation about wealth and entitlement and the ethics of fine dining, especially against the backdrop of a global economic recession. Dinner at Ynyshir costs 375 euros per person, includes roughly 30 courses, and takes over four hours to complete. The fact that a guest expressed a very particular set of expectations at a restaurant of this price point might not come as a surprise. But, the real issue here is much larger than whether Southby or Ward was right or wrong in how they handled the altercation. 

The customer service dance remains much the same at the fine dining level

It's no secret that the hospitality industry has long been a one-sided battleground of diners berating and otherwise abusing staff, while employees are expected to smile and be gracious. But, as anyone who's ever worked a food service job before will gladly tell you, the customer isn't always right, and the folks who know the most about your meal are probably the people preparing it. When a chef bites back against customer disrespect, some guests might see it as a blemish on the overall experience of the restaurant. Others might argue that it's the chef's job to create knockout food — not kiss customers' foreheads while they chew.

Ynyshir has taken to Ward's defense, releasing the following statement: "Gareth is not in any way an aggressive person; he's passionate about what we do. He's a gentle giant." The restaurant continues to explain, "We take pride in our staff and do not tolerate inappropriate and abusive behavior and attitudes towards them from anyone whilst they are just doing their job," reports The Guardian. Notably, the other members of the Southbys' dining party also emailed Ynyshir to thank the restaurant for the meal and apologize for their companions' behavior.