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Variety in Eating out in London

March 4, 2012

In recent weeks I have had the dubious pleasure of having to stay away from home weeknights. The reason is I have been assigned to a project in Central London and I no longer live a reasonable commuting distance away. As a result I struck in a Hotel several nights a week.

This also means that I invariable find myself going and having my evening meal in a restaurant. There is a huge variety of places to eat in London and I’ve never been far from somewhere new to eat. Some are parts of a well-known chain and some are more exclusive.

Because my meals are all business expenses, I have a budget to stick to. I can spend up to £25 on an evening meal. Well I can spend more; I just have to make sure that the average covering the period for which I claim comes out at no more than £25 or thereabouts. This is generally enough for two courses and a drink, so its not unreasonable. As it happens I normally find myself having just one course, I’ve lost enough of my 6-pack as it is, I don’t want to give my body any further reason to expend past size 34” waist trousers.

Though there has been the odd duffer, most meals out I have had have been of a reasonable quality and none have been awful to the point of inedibility.

The better meals, unsurprisingly, have been the more expensive ones, which have also been the non-chain restaurants.

The biggest single difference I have noticed though is the price of Wine. I have generally tended to have a glass of wine with my meal and only opting for a beer when I could see that there was decent British beer on draught and not imported larger in a bottle.

The variation in wine prices has been quite staggering and there is no obvious theme, apart from the more expensive restaurants charging more for it. There are generally three choice of wine glass size, 125mm, 175mm and 250mm. So far all restaurants have had only two of the sizes on offer (well one had just the 175mm); they all offer the 175mm size and then either have the larger or smaller as the second size.

What has bugged me a few times is that the restaurants that offer the two smaller sizes have typically offered them at the same prices as the ones offering the two larger sizes; meaning that there is a discrepancy in value. Yet its not even that simple, the price difference between the dearer and cheaper restaurants has been almost 50% at the most dramatic. Remember this is still in restaurants that are at the lower end of the eating out spectrum. I dread to think what the cost per glass would be for the places outside of my budget.

Of course I am ignoring the not so small matter of different wines fetch different prices and arbitrarily picking prices while ignoring the base product isn’t very scientific. However, at the price points I’m talking about (£4 to £8 per glass) I think the point is reasonable. I think it’s pretty much a given that the restaurants are getting the bottles in at under the price they are selling the smallest glass for.

Service Charge or Not Service Charge

Nit-picking about wine sizes and prices aside, my real bugbear has been the notion of ‘optional service charge’. Adding an item to the bottom of the bill automatically adding 10% under the title of optional service charge is objectionable in my opinion and should not be done. It’s only been the more expensive restaurants that have had the arrogance to do this, one even added 12.5%. I’ve not made a fuss about it and have accepted the extra without a word, but I’ve not left an extra tip.

Personally I think service should be rewarded with a tip and good service gets a good tip. !0% is typical for what I would tip but I have left more. The point is that adding the service charge is wrong in my opinion. If the restaurant feels their food and service is worth that cost, they should include it in the price. Cornering people into paying a tip, because that’s what service charge is, is cynical. The fact it’s the more expensive restaurants doing it is doubly insulting. The price of the food and drink should be enough.

As an IT professional, my employer does not add a service charge to our clients for my time. The client is given a charge and that’s what they pay. There is no extra charge added to the end for the pleasure of them having me do the work. SO it should be with a restaurant, the price of the food should include the consideration of the cooking effort and the serving effort. Any extra should be my choice and my choice alone to leave, it is an opt in choice not an opt out choice.

So, as a matter of principle I will not leave anything more in a restaurant where they add service charge to the bill.

The sad fact is, in most places where there is a service charge added, I would have typically left more than 10% anyway. Sadly in their greed for that extra they lost extra from me.

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From → Food, Places to Eat

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