Restaurant Roulette: The Perils of Dining Out

—Starting Off—

A meal at a restaurant is a great way to spend an evening. But if you aren’t careful, there are pitfalls and difficulties at every turn: from wine to waiters, compote to crudités, this menu of maladies will try to see you through. Bon appetite.

—Main Problems—

The ‘specials’ can seem tempting, but be careful. From a couple of restaurants I have worked in, I have seen how they would routinely base the specials around what was going off that day to shift it, and according to other sources this seems to be a fairly common practice. Doesn’t seem so special now, does it?  When it comes to ordering wine, you don’t want to pick the bottom of the list, because you’ll look like a cheapskate; so you plump for the 2nd from the bottom. The problem is, restaurants know this little trick and inflate this price, so the bottom of the list wine will often be better quality and the 3rd from the bottom will be much better value.

—Proof is in the Pudding—

Still got room for pudding? If yes, then go for it, but beware of ice cream. The chances are that the menu will be dripping with delicious prose about their award-winning frozen churns, but the reality is ice cream will usually be from restaurant wholesalers. Ice creams on average have the single biggest mark-up of any dessert, so the best option would be to leave before pud and grab a Ben and Jerry’s on your way home. At the end of it all, the bill will come (no surprises there), but always remember the service charge is discretionary and if you are really not happy, you can pay whatever you like; although, be aware of the fact that serving staff rely on tips to make their low standard wage worthwhile.

—Side order of Jargon—-

To confuse things further, restaurants tend to fill their menus with ill-judged nuggets of French, Italian and Spanish. Here are a few of their favourite ways of embroidering the food descriptions.

Al forno – typically means ‘from the oven’; usually referring to pasta.

Compote – stewed fruit.

Crudités – raw fruit and veg.

Confit – meat prepared with its own fat – basically, a disappointingly small portion.

Provençal – the chef is trying to come over all French; it basically means ‘Provence-style’.

Amuse bouche – expensive nibbles.

Au poivre – pretentious way of saying peppered.

William Robertson

One Comment
  • Drew
    3 October 2011 at 17:57
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    What you say about service charge’s being discretionary is incorrect. If you are told about a compulsory service charge before you eat e.g. notice displayed on the price list or priced menu inside or outside the restaurant, then you must pay the service charge. You can only avoid it when the service was particularly poor and then you can refuse to pay all or some of it.

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