Alison Cowan reckons seafood-loving celebrity chefs and media reports on fishing issues have transformed what customers ask at the fish counter.
Alison, 45, is a Meat and Fish Team Leader at Morrisons Retford store in Nottinghamshire.
Many of the questions customers ask have remained the same over the 12 years she has been with the company, but she’s also witnessed a real shift as customers now pay much more attention to sustainability and different species.
Alison took the time to share her experiences as a fishmonger and reveals the top questions customers ask.
The most common question I am asked has always been about how to cook a fish. Often it is the men who want to know what to do with a fish.
Younger men come to the counter looking for ways to impress their partners with their cooking because they see that fish is a really good way to do that.
I give them advice on cooking techniques and ways to prepare different fish. I also speak to a lot of widowers. We are approached by a lot of older gentlemen who have lost their partner and are now fending for themselves.
Recipes and preparation
Many of our customers also ask for recipe ideas. They want to try new species and something different, and fishmongers have loads of ideas for how to cook fish differently.
It’s the same for preparation ideas. People used to only eat one or two species of fish, but now there is an appetite to try many more things.
Species and responsibility
It’s great to see customers showing such an interest in different species, techniques, and that they are responsibly caught. A lot of the interest is down to the popularity of TV cooking and food programmes.
The challenge for fishmongers is making sure they know everything that a customer is going to ask. If there’s something I don’t know, I make sure I find out for the next time.
People want to know where a fish has come from – especially prawns. That’s because of TV and media coverage. People are far more educated in these issues now and they are much more interested. We need to be proactive about being aware of issues and knowing the most up-to-date information.
I go to car boot sales for old cookbooks, get them from my family members, read magazines and newspaper articles, and watch TV programmes. It’s about educating people and making them confident about fish.
There are some surprising questions that customer will often ask. Many customers, especially men, will point at a whole fish and ask if it has any bones in it. It could be something from their childhood or a bad experience of getting a bone caught.
It really surprised me when I was first asked it, but it’s happened so many times now. I explain that there are bones in whole fish but that there are ways they can avoid having them, offering to fillet the fish, or explain how they can remove them.
It’s actually a very common question.
The other common question that is a bit strange is when customers point to the raw prawns and ask if they need to be cooked first. When this happens I take it as an opportunity to educate the customer on how best to cook them, what to cook them with, and on any other tips I can give them.
There are a lot of gaps in knowledge and it’s up to us to help fill those with good information that makes them confident and keen to cook fish. That is the best way to encourage customers to come back. If they feel they are gaining knowledge and are building their confidence.
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