Candis editor Flic takes a look at the dark art of eating out, in her weekly online column…
I love eating out. I always have, ever since I was small and for a very occasional treat we’d go to a Berni Inn, where my dad would have steak and half a lager and my mum would have chicken supreme with orange juice as a starter. (When did fruit juice as a starter die out? I’ve had wine as a pudding quite often, but the idea of beginning a meal with a glass of reconstituted juice seems very odd. And cheap.)
Sometime in the late 70s, we added the New Moon Chinese restaurant to our family repertoire, which I loved because it had an animatronic depiction of a waterfall above the serving hatch, and a mural of ancient Peking by the bar. I suspect the food was a bit nuclear radiation, but it was the 70s, and expectations were low.
They’re not any more. Eating out is now an industry worth billions, and most of us are prepared to pay someone else to cook for us on a regular basis. So we expect it to be excellent. Whereas once in a station, you’d have a chocolate machine if you were lucky, or a kiosk selling bags of crisps, now there are fleets of cafes, restaurants and take-aways; while on most high streets, mid-priced restaurants have replaced fading shops, and lure customers in with a series of offers, discounts and extras.
The only problem is, you don’t know what’s a good deal and what isn’t. I can’t count the times I thought a ‘set menu’ was a bargain, to find that the ‘three course’ meal began with a teeny little pastry on a scribble of rocket, and ended with a scoop of ice cream you’d need the Hubble telescope to see. Or looked forward to the “£10 main course” before realising that when you’re vegetarian, like me, no main course should cost £10.
I’m also a sucker for happy hour – the other night I met a friend after work and the bar was offering £4 cocktails till nine. Obviously, I ended up having three, which cost the same as a bottle of wine we could have shared between us.
I am, in short, a huge sitting duck for restaurants to rip me off. That’s why the August Candis feature ‘the truth about eating out’ was so interesting to me. Did you know we tend to read the upper right hand corner of the menu first, where the most expensive dishes are found? Or that classical music makes you spend more?
And most frighteningly, one expert advises, “Never order cheese.” Which is possibly where I’ve been going wrong all my life.
August Candis is out now.