There are lots of great cheap meal deals around right now – you can get the latest in our ‘cheap eats vouchers’ piece. However, even if a meal is cheap, it doesn’t mean the experience has to be cheap. There’s a lot of restaurant rip-offs out there and we are going to help you spot them.
I love eating out but there are a few things that loads of restaurants do that really get my goat. It’s time we stopped just accepting dodgy practices. Here’s my top 10 restaurant rip-offs:
- Slapping on a ‘cover charge’. How dare they! Thankfully there are fewer restaurants that do this now, but any that do I boycott every time. Charging me for the table cloth and cutlery or even for bread that I didn’t order is shocking.
- Bad or just plain mediocre food. If you’re running a business based on feeding people you should make sure that you produce excellent food. Sadly there are very few restaurants, and even fewer chains, in this country that get close to this. We should get closer to the standards of countries like France, Italy and Spain.
- Bad service. Again, this seems to be something we specialise in in Britain. I think it has a lot to do with the fact that being a waiter (or waitress) is considered a job that you do if you can’t get anything else. In France the waiting staff generally get a cut of the profits of a restaurant so they have a much more professional attitude. Good service should certainly be tipped well, I think, but bad service and bad food should be pointed out and tips withheld.
- Restaurants keeping tips. On the subject of tipping I can’t bear the idea of waiters losing some or all of the tips we give to the owners of the place. Now, if I remember, I ask the waiting staff if they get the money that’s added onto my bill. If not I take it off and give it to them in their hands in cash. It’s a scandal that should be exposed, so do ask next time you’re in a restaurant and let us know if you find a restaurant that keeps the tips. We’ll name and shame!
- Having to beg for water. In the States, as you sit down the waiter brings a jug of iced water and starts pouring it. Why do we have to beg for tap water here? In so many place they take ages to bring you a glass of tap water, and then only if you ask for it. It’s regularly just a little glass of tepid stuff too. I’d like to see jugs of iced tap water as standard on restaurant tables.
- Too much choice. Sounds strange I know but I really don’t trust menus that go on for pages. Where do they keep all this food? How come they get it to the table so quickly? It says to me that everything is microwaved from frozen with a sprig of parsley put on top to make it look posh.
- Tinned and packeted food. Similar to the point above, it’s depressing to order what sounds like fresh food, only to find that it’s obviously tinned or mass-produced in a factory somewhere. Those starters wrapped in filo pastry often come in such a rigid shape (and have so little taste) it’s clear they’re out of a frozen packet from the wholesalers.
- Main courses that don’t include vegetables. I love veggies and I don’t feel I’ve had a meal if I haven’t had them with the meat or fish or whatever. It’s annoying when you order what you think is a meal (and it certainly has the price tag of a main course) and then you find you have to get ‘side orders’ of veg at £2.75+ per dish. Make sure you book with better value restaurants – find out how in our article on how to get the best restaurant deals.
- Pretentious descriptions. All right, it’s not exactly a crime, but if I’m having lunch in a pub carvery and the menu says the chicken comes with a port ‘jus’ I want to shout back ‘it’s gravy! Why can’t you call it that?’ ‘Hand-cooked chips’? That means someone in the kitchen has grabbed a fist-full of chips and thrown them into the frier. ‘Pan-fried’ – that just means ‘fried’. Come on!
- Customers who don’t complain. All right this isn’t the restaurant’s fault but it is something we need to do a lot more of in this country. I don’t mean having a stand-up fight with the manager but simply pointing out things that are wrong in a constructive way. That’s one of the useful things about booking through Toptable – they ask you for your comments afterwards and you can be as frank as you like.