Britain’s “Restaurant” Culture

Every now and again the comments section at Tim Worstall’s blog gets taken over by a discussion of British restaurants and how they compare to their European counterparts.  I think it was Bloke in Spain (again) who said a major difference is that people in Britain go to a restaurant for a special occasion, hence when the food or service turns out to be crap nobody wants to make a fuss because it would “spoil the occasion”.  By contrast, people in France go to restaurants because they are hungry and want to eat, and if the food or service is awful then the very purpose of going there has been defeated, and therefore they will complain.  This goes part of the way to explain the difference in dining experience between the two countries.

This article in The Telegraph, via Mr Worstall, would appear to support this theory:

Britain’s booming restaurant culture is fuelling record levels of childhood obesity, with today’s children spending at least twice as much time spent eating out as previous generations did, experts have warned.

French provincial restaurants are full of kids, and yet they are not all a bunch of porkers.  In fact, trying to find a fat French kid requires considerable effort.

Health officials said families no longer behaved as though dining out was a “treat” and have instead allowed restaurant meals and fast food to become a major part of youngsters’ weekly diet.

Dining out in Britain is often an endurance rather than a treat.

Today’s families are spending at least twice as much time eating out as those who grew up in the 1970s, its report warns.

People eating in restaurants generates a warning?  In most places this is considered a good thing.

She said parents needed help – including calorie labelling on menus – to look after their children’s health.

At which point my French readers wonder why British parents are so thick.

“Every day we are bombarded by cheap, high calorie food and drinks; what we see in the media, in our shops and on the street encourages us to consume too much and gain weight,” she said.

If this has anything to do with eating in restaurants, they’re keeping it secret.

We need action from across society to help the nation to consume less,” the senior official said.

I wish these idiots in charge would make up their mind as to whether girls are anorexic because of unrealistically skinny bodies displayed in adverts, or everyone is too fat because the media is promoting junk food.  And last time I heard, telling women they are too fat and ought to eat less was considered a no-no and big was beautiful.  Some consistency would be nice.

Research involving almost 2,000 people found 75 per cent had eaten out or had a takeaway in the last week, a rise from 68 per cent five years ago.

Only in Britain is eating at a restaurant considered the same as having a takeaway.

Last year, Harvard researchers discovered that people who eat out regularly are more likely to be overweight and to develop Type 2 diabetes compared to those who eat at home.

“We now buy a very large proportion of our food from the out of home sector. It is not a treat, it is an everyday event,” Dr Tedstone said.

Note there is no consideration of the quality of restaurant here.  A family eating at a four star brasserie is lumped in with somebody handing their kids a bucket of KFC.

“Children on average have three meals from the ‘out of home sector’ [restaurants, takeaways and fast-food outlets] every week,” she added. “That’s a lot of calories.”

This is wonderful commentary on how the British view eating out, it really is.  But as an article warning of the dangers posed by frequent restaurant attendance, it’s not so good..

One in five families now has at least two takeaways a week, the official added.

The headline of this article is “Britain’s booming restaurant culture fuels record childhood obesity levels”.  Well, I guess McDonald’s refer to their premises as restaurants…

Dr Tedstone said making improvements to restaurants and fast food would be crucial to tackling Britain’s obesity epidemic.

You want to improve British restaurants?  Good luck.

The nutritionist welcomed efforts by some councils were trying to limit the number of fast food outlets near schools, but said restaurants needed to do far more to help customers make healthier choices.

By hiring a decent chef who can actually cook things?

The nutritionist welcomed efforts by some councils were trying to limit the number of fast food outlets near schools, but said restaurants needed to do far more to help customers make healthier choices.

“Restaurants, cafes and takeaways can contribute by reducing portion sizes, sugar, saturated fat and salt across their menus …” she said.

Are British restaurants really so bad they need external advice on what ingredients to use in their dishes?

Thank God I live in France.

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26 thoughts on “Britain’s “Restaurant” Culture

  1. In the 70s our favourite restaurants were (i) a superb curry restaurant: far superior to any other we’ve ever been to; the subtleties of flavour were a delight, (ii) a rather rudimentary Cantonese restaurant said to provide authentic food – wonderful stuff, only in HK (not even in San Francisco) have I had anything nearly as good, (iii) a Georgian restaurant (as in Stalin, not peaches) – super tuck and a marvellous atmosphere; and (iv) a Danish place – very fine, especially for fish-lovers. If you wanted good British food, you cooked it yourself, went home to Mum, because dinner party food was overwhelmingly aimed at being French or Italian. Of those four the only one I remember seeing children in was (i). Most British families seem to drag up their children with such ill manners that I’d not want to share a restaurant with them, with the exception of not minding if eating out in a beer garden in the summer.

    But in the 80s we moved to Cambridge where, if you wanted anything better than decent undergraduate nosh, you had to take the train to London; or, rather, two trains because you had to change in Royston. Apart from the superb Midsummer House, I suspect that Cambridge eating out still suffers from being in the London travel-to-work area. London has a remarkable ability to suck life out of places nearby.

  2. Dreaieme, in the 1990/2000s Cambridge had an excellent Dim Sum place just by Downing and opposite the University Arms Hotel. I haven’t looked recently to see if it is still there though and I don’t recall it when I was an undergrad in the late 80s

  3. Yes in general I think they are the worst. Not only that they are bloody unhygienic as ell and how many different baked potato sauces can you get in a country?. Food snobbery is taken advantage of as well and then there is frozen Pizza for Twenty Quid?

    Undoubtedly there are some world class restaurants in Mud Island but the majority don’t even make basic entry level.

  4. @dearieme

    I thought you would have had a kebab at Byres Rd when you were going to the yooni.

  5. There’s a definite air of the inferiority complex over here regarding French cuisine.

  6. My problem is the preponderance of chain restaurants in the UK, all selling more or less the same menus, none of which (apart from, sometimes, the pizza bases) is actually cooked on the premises. It is all reheated/boil-in-the bag/micro-waved stuff. And that goes for so-called gastro-pubs as well. There are very very few places where the kitchen actually does any work and they charge extortionate prices for what they serve up, as if grilling a steak or a sausage were a skilled job. I also think there really is an issue with portion sizes. They havve expanded along with the waistline of the average Brit over the past 30 years. Any town in France or Spain or Belgium will have a couple of family-owned places which offer a value-priced 3 course menu which does not involve the bulldozer-sized portions of reconstituted sawdust you find in the UK chain restaurants.

  7. This is a worthless study. It conflates restaurant visits with obesity, which is a leap of bad logic if ever I saw one. I don’t know who these ‘experts’ are, but I wouldn’t hire them to polish my shoes properly.

    Yet stupid politicians will take it’s findings as gospel, make legislation which has the unintended consequence of putting small and good restaurants out of business while the big chains simply adjust their business model and keep on serving up the same semi-recycled crud.

  8. A low cost solution to the UK’s many alleged health problems.

    Close Public Health England (PHE) and do not redeploy any ex-employees.

    Close Sheffield Hallam University and do not redeploy any ex-employees.

  9. Fuck me, the coffee in England is awful. I mean AWFUL. Cafe Nero is almost drinkable.

    Central London is 99.99% chains but the quality for kids is ok. Like as in “not bad”, the worst two words in the English language.

    Kids portions in the centre of Paris are too big; we split two dishes across 4 kids (ages 9, 8, 5 and 3), but the food was fine; a pip higher than not bad.

    The kids food in central Barcelona all came out of the freezer and, again, could be halved in portion size.

    Our kids will eat olives, capsicums, snails, salad, vegetables and a lot of different meats. I assume the fat fuckers in the study eat burgers and carbohydrates. Tim’s point is very well made that it’s the “what” and “how” not the “when” or “how often” that matters most about eating out of the home.

    By the way, Tim, how many screens did you see our kids looking at when we met for dinner last week? I reckon that’s a factor too.

    P.S. Hello Bardon.

  10. @graeme,

    Two words; Brake Bros.

    Single-handled destroyed good home-cooked pub grub in the U.K.

    “Death by chocolate mud pie”. Never were truer words spoken in jest.

  11. Graeme,

    My problem is the preponderance of chain restaurants in the UK, all selling more or less the same menus, none of which (apart from, sometimes, the pizza bases) is actually cooked on the premises. It is all reheated/boil-in-the bag/micro-waved stuff. And that goes for so-called gastro-pubs as well. There are very very few places where the kitchen actually does any work and they charge extortionate prices for what they serve up, as if grilling a steak or a sausage were a skilled job.

    Exactly. That’s the major difference with France IMO, here there is a kitchen and a qualified chef who cooks the meal. In the UK it’s some youth who can, as you say, boil things to some degree of competence. See also TNA’s reference to Brake Bros.

    Any town in France or Spain or Belgium will have a couple of family-owned places which offer a value-priced 3 course menu which does not involve the bulldozer-sized portions of reconstituted sawdust you find in the UK chain restaurants.

    The other thing you find in France is the menu will have a choice of about 4 or 5 main courses. It’s not extensive, but each item will be good. In the UK the menu is the size of a phone book and they offer everything from pizza to sushi via Irish stew. It’s obvious they’re not actually cooking this stuff.

  12. Bill,

    It conflates restaurant visits with obesity, which is a leap of bad logic if ever I saw one.

    Exactly.

    Yet stupid politicians will take it’s findings as gospel, make legislation which has the unintended consequence of putting small and good restaurants out of business while the big chains simply adjust their business model and keep on serving up the same semi-recycled crud.

    Spot on, this is exactly what will happen.

  13. TNA,

    Kids portions in the centre of Paris are too big;

    I wouldn’t know. 😉 It would be interesting to see if this was just a Paris thing, or applied to the whole of France. Paris gets an awful lot of Americans passing through.

    The kids food in central Barcelona all came out of the freezer and, again, could be halved in portion size.

    I’ve yet to visit a place as overrated as Barcelona, and that included the restaurants.

    Our kids will eat olives, capsicums, snails, salad, vegetables and a lot of different meats.

    From my experience, they also eat chocolate ice cream the aftermath of which looks as though somebody fed them with a catapult. 😉 Although to be fair, that was just your youngest who’s cute enough to get away with it.

    By the way, Tim, how many screens did you see our kids looking at when we met for dinner last week?

    Just your oldest on the Kindle.

  14. @dearieme. UK Contractor that I worked for building roads and bridges around Scotland had an ongoing engineer intake from Glasgow University. I met many undergraduates and graduates from there and shared kebab and pints with them and the student set on Byres Rd. Fond memories, maybe its not a thing anymore.

  15. @TNA

    I was in Adelaide today and it reminded me of you, I think it has slipped further back in time.

    Are you fully assimilated yet?

  16. I’ve yet to visit a place as overrated as Barcelona, and that included the restaurants.

    Heh! You agree with us bilbaínos then…… 🙂

  17. I think Jamie Oliver best typifies everything that modern day British food culture stands for. With a little bit of tutting about the lesser spotted chavs eating habits for good measure. Its all about respectable chavs these days.

    What do you say to a chav when he is at work?

    Big Mac and Fries, mate.

  18. @Bardon: I do not have the honour of being associated with that distinguished institution, the University of Glasgow.

  19. Restaurants, cafes and takeaways can contribute by reducing portion sizes,

    In many restaurants here and in France, if they reduced portions any more they would become invisible, obviously I am not talking about KFC and the like.

  20. @wiggia,

    “Restaurants, cafes and takeaways can contribute by reducing portion sizes,”.

    Restaurants could contribute to solving my alcoholism by not letting me buy that third bottle of Shiraz.

    Kawasaki could reduce deaths at the Isle of Man by not selling motorcycles.

  21. @bardon,

    Edit you eat at the Gaucho?

    I learned recently that it’s a Bikie-owned place. You could probably buy some Charlie if you know the code word.

    Assimilated? Never. I hate everyone everywhere, what’s the point or comfort in “belonging”?

  22. @TNA

    Why do you think I recommended it in the first place, they do good bud there as well. The Barossa Valley has more than grapes for cash crops.

  23. @bardon

    You might have thought to mention the other menu items when I was actually visiting the place on a regular basis. Jeesh.

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