If you spoke to me at all between September 2009-December 2009, you’re probably aware that I quite openly complained about British food. Due to a series of unfortunate food choices and a general lack of funds to purchase decent restaurant food, I complained to anyone that would listen (or pretended to listen) about the horrors of British cuisine.
I found myself so desperate that I had a stint as an accidental vegetarian where I sufficed on only humus and pita, apple juice, and a large assortment of biscuits. This was enough to make me vow to do better the next time I was in the United Kingdom. Sure I could shed an easy ten pounds on this diet. Much more if I gave up the biscuits (and hadn’t discovered a mystical place called Ben’s Cookies). But this diet just wasn’t right.
Upon arriving in the United Kingdom last September I wanted to give this country the benefit of the doubt when it came to affordable restaurant food. I tried with my limited budget to seek out decent restaurant meal deals with some success. Sure I found some gems such as beat the clock nights at Belgo in Chalk Farm (from 5 PM-7 PM your meal price is the time that your order was processed), an Italian restaurant near my flat called Nino’s that even gives away free bread (on occasion) and meals under £6, and Steak Night at Wetherspoons (£7.50 for steak, potato, veg, and drink) when I’m not pretending to be an intentional vegetarian.
Despite the successes, there are still some cultural differences in the restaurant world that I’ve experienced. Perhaps I haven’t dined at the most outstanding restaurants in London because of my current status as a graduate student, but in America food can be delicious with good service at an affordable price. Nonetheless, I’ve picked up on a few cultural differences between eating on both sides of the pond.
The honest truth of how restaurant scenarios are handled in two countries. An unfortunate tale for those residing in the UK.
USA: What you see is what you get…
In America menu descriptions are often so vivid they are accompanied by photos of the food you could potentially ingest. Most of the food items in your entrée are described in detail in the menu.
UK: What you don’t see is what you get…
You’re lucky if a menu description is more detailed than “green salad.” Questions are met with skeptical looks. Surprise tomatoes and olives are always a possibility.
USA: Complaining Brings Reward
If you have a problem with your food, it’s perfectly acceptable to inform the waitress or waiter and send it back for a new dish to be prepared. Sure it will be inconvenient, but you’ll probably get an apology. Maybe even a comped dessert. Or 10% off your bill. Exciting, right?
UK: Complaining Brings Confusion
If a waitress asks you how your food is you’re expected to say it’s fine. When you tell her your chicken is overcooked, your complaint will be met with a blank stare. Then she’ll walk away.
USA: Do you want another refill on that diet coke ma’am?
Yes please sir! It’s free like this country after all!
UK: You better savor that drink yank.
If you want another refill on your diet coke you better cough up the GBP to finance that glass of lukewarm soda. Learning to savor a tiny glass of diet coke with your meal is an under appreciated art form. Better yet order water. Just make sure it comes from the tap so it doesn’t come with a bill.
USA: Tip 15%-20%
Waiters and waitresses will offer you good service because their income depends on tips. If the service is lackluster you can always consult a manager.
UK: Tipping…not as necessary
Waiters and waitresses are paid a living wage. You’ll get horrible service and they’ll still expect 10%. Suppress the urge to be American and give more than 10%. Sometimes leave 5%. Stop feeling guilty about it.
USA: Do you want some more complimentary cheesy biscuits?
It’s only our third basket. Sure why not?
UK: Do you want some bread?
If your response is yes don’t be alarmed if when you receive your bill you’re charged £3.50 for bread.