Still Hungry?

Kaitlin Dryburgh

Making the rounds recently is the farcical story of a London pub charging an extortionate £17 for a pint and a pie. Furthering London’s image of an abyss without any common sense, the pub in question had the audacity to write “ONLY £17”. The story was widely circulated on social media and even had local journalists visit the pub in question to try the infamous pie, stating that its taste didn’t quite justify the hefty price tag. I would like to clarify we are just talking about a pie for one.

London has always represented the extremes of absurdity when it comes to catering to the rich and hyper capitalism. There is little value for money when it comes to that city, and it seems that even charging £17 for a pie and pint seems justified, because the pub hasn’t budged on its price. So we can safely say it’s just been accepted as another one of those “annoying quirks of London”.

If only those stupid quirks would stay firmly in London. But alas we are now all subjected to the out of touch and costly fashions that are making eating out a frustrating luxury. The thing is a “pie and pint for ONLY £17” is the perfect example of the hyper capitalism effecting our restaurant culture at present, the constant feeling of being ripped-off, or at the very least having to dodge the places who are trying. It seems we have all accepted it.

By no means am I taking aim at the brilliant restaurants of all varieties who are having to traverse extremely tight margins, with rent and food prices climbing to new heights. After the pandemic, many restaurants had major staffing holes to plug and the industry still insists it’s hard to find experienced staff. After all labour, crockery, and energy all cost. Food prices have undoubtedly increased, and at some point cooking oil became more expensive than actual fuel, restaurants have had to increase prices to survive. Independent restaurants which aim to serve good quality food and have a price tag which represents good value for money should be forever celebrated. However, among the good quality establishments are the ones who shape the food industry for the worst.

Take the abysmal ‘small plates’ trend that we can’t quite seem to shake. In theory a perfectly delicious idea, an option to try many things and share with the person/people you are dining with. Taking from tapas or mezze styles of eating, except it doesn’t follow the same price tag. Expect to be shown to your table and seated, the waiter then asks if you’ve been here before and if not can they explain the ‘concept’? The concept being the usual story they recommend a minimum of three small plates per person. What proceeds is usually day-light robbery. Paying £9 for no more than 6 prawns, bread which never comes with enough of whatever is supposed to accompany it, and somehow you’ve got to cut a croquette into three equal parts. In most cases the value for money will not reflect the quantity and quality and you’ll leave with less in the bank and a hankering for something substantial to eat. This may be a rather sweeping generalisation of what is occurring but there is a lot of truth in it. I’m a big fan of tapas and sharing food, but not when it comes to overcharging for tiny tacos that leaves me feeling hungry and poorer.

It evokes the same feelings as the slate/board epidemic, when getting your food served on a plate seemed like a stupid request. Instead you’d have to strategically eat in a manner that didn’t push a rogue chip off your uneven wooden board of food. Of course some didn’t stop at the boards or slates. My mum had the pleasure of eating a carrot cake from a planting pot, and I’ve seen mash served in a tankard. It truly is a crazy world out there.

Of course having a small plates section can sometimes be an added bonus to a meal and if you fancy eating crumble from a garden trowel then that’s absolutely okay. But the gimmicks and low-value aspects that they bring to dining speak to the ultra-capitalist approach to eating out currently. To eat out has become more and more of an out of reach luxury. I acknowledge that to some eating out has always been a luxury. Regardless of prices easing ever so slightly in recent weeks there is a culture of setting prices too high in the face of fads.

So how could I write this without mentioning the chain restaurants that we seem intent on supporting.

Chain restaurants have their place. Including myself, many people have frequented them and most likely enjoyed a meal or two there. However, I think most people would agree that the quality of food found at any chain is sub-par to what you could find at an equivalent independent restaurant. Except we’ve foolishly made our peace with it in the face of convenience and some clever marketing. Not to mention a meal at a chain restaurant costs on average more than the equivalent at an independent restaurant. In fact according to menu tracking algorithms chain restaurants are hiking the costs of their menu higher than independent restaurants, thus helping to drive overall menu costs. Pre-pandemic the rise of chain restaurants was plain to see as they lined just about every high street, I’m talking your large chains here. They become investment vehicles, quite often selling to venture capitalists, expanding too fast and losing the essence of why everyone enjoyed them in the first place. They then get added to the pile of eateries just like them who serve up soulless and commercialised cooking. When you look to countries who have enviable food cultures the high majority of them don’t have a love of chain restaurants like our towns and cities do.

To me they go hand in hand with the thing that also helped the chain restaurant expansion, the retail park. Don’t get me wrong, the retail park can be a helpful thing but it shouldn’t be viewed as the optimal day out, sometimes glorified as the best thing that you can do with your spare time, shopping. The chain restaurant goes hand in hand with this, since it’s rare that an independent restaurant could ever afford the rents at a retail park. It’s the idea that consumerism is key, that quality and value are secondary, quality of time, ingredients and experience all take a back seat. The value of the food you’re eating isn’t as important as the marketing and branding, while the independent businesses can play second best to big chain restaurants. The prices at these chain restaurants have crept up and up, the irony some even play to the image of being cheap when in reality a meal there can be extremely pricey.

Inflation has undeniably increased but we are all aware that some businesses have been hiding behind the fact to mask their own greed which is the real driver of higher costs. Corporate profiteering is one of the many reasons we now find ourselves in a cost-of-living crisis and it most certainly applies to chain restaurants and the others who also feel the need to charge £17 for a pie and pint. Who is setting these inflated prices and where is the pushback from everyone who knows we are without question over-paying for food which isn’t worth the money? It’s the height of greed and it leaves a bitter taste in the mouth.

4 thoughts on “Still Hungry?”

  1. ‘We’ are not in a cost-of-living crisis …. ‘some people’ are in a cost of living crisis. Those who are in a cost-of-living crisis are people whose income has increased by less than the rate of inflation they face and who were already struggling to make ends meet before the real value of their incomes began to be squeezed. Many people are not in a cost of living crisis, such as those whose income has increased by more than the rate of inflation and those who were comfortably able to save each week/month before inflation began to rise.

    The reality, therefore, is that the people most affected by the cost-of living crisis are low paid workers whose wages have increased by less than the rate of inflation. They are the ones really feeling the squeeze. However, many working people with mortgages have also experienced a significant squeeze since interest rates have shot up by way more than the rate of inflation. Those on benefits and state pensioners have been protected to some extent since their benefits/pensions have increased by the rate of inflation with additional payments to help with increased energy costs.

    1. Ian Davidson

      From the perspective of an ex-debt etc adviser with an interest in economics etc, you make some good points.
      1. The generality of “cost of living crisis” is as you say overplayed. Public policy needs to be much more specific about whose is drowning versus who has just got wet feet on the “ladder of economic survival”. Pensioners are not a homogenous group yet public policy assumes this myth.
      2. As individuals, few of us are honest about money. Anyone who has some savings, property etc will be coy (I include myself in this). For example. I have personally benefited from inheritance . Is this philosophically correct? Is inheritance legitimate, a right and why do we fuss about inheritance tax (mine was way below tax threshold by a margin of at least £200k). I chose to give a fair chunk to others, including younger family buying first property. Its all pure luck, like where/when you are born etc so why do we label folks as “self-inflicted” poverty? Who chooses to be poor?
      3. Some folks at middle and upper income levels are in debt because of two factors. Inflation and over-commitment. We live in a capitalist, market led society. I drive a car which cost about £10k, shared with my wife. In my street, there are driveways with 3-6 cars, often SUVs starting at £30k. Houses are of course over-priced due to housing “market failure” and lack of social housing- govt policy. But some folks do buy houses that are too big for their needs. Health, caring, addictions, children, location.. all determine how much you need. Financial education is lacking; too many folks get legally ripped off by overpaying on insurance, credit cards, subscriptions.
      I have not mentioned the really, really rich folks. That’s a different matter but my views on this can be guessed by joining up the following words/phrases:
      Wealth OK if ethically gained/zero exploitation/pay all taxes/no loopholes/firing squads for deliberate high level evasion of tax and other legal, moral, social responsibilities/if you really don’t need it, give it away to charity, tax deductible of course, but only to genuine charities, not right wing think-tanks!

  2. Alasdair Macdonald

    Ah, but it might have been ‘craft’ ber and an ‘artisan’ pie with Wagyu beef.

    If it had been a PLAY a pie and a pint in London, then it would have been £117.

    We are talking about the INHOSPITALITY industry here – low wages, unsociable working hours, zero hours contract, claims that parking controls and the LEZ will devastate the industry, ‘slamming’ lockdown during the pandemic because it would cause a ‘tsunami’ of closures, advocating ‘eat out to help out’ to get government handouts (Of the socialism for the rich variety) while causing another wave of infections, supporting Brexit, donating to the Tories.

  3. Ian Davidson

    Some tips from a 62 year old diner who likes to get value for money from everything:
    1. The trendier the setting, the dearer the food/drink but not necessarily the quality. You pay for the “atmosphere”. Many of the best quality food and service are in places that don’t look that great from the outside. Small, family run places.
    2. Community cafes run by churches, social enterprise etc can offer good quality and ok prices (albeit some social enterprises can be “pricey”).
    3. Tea is cheaper than coffee than lattes with cinamon than alcohol.. More choice, more complexity, higher costs, higher prices. I drink gallons of tea.
    4. Confession: I/we do use “Weatherspoons” esp for somewhere to relax whilst waiting for bus. Refuge for older folks. Breakfasts better than lunch. Sir Tim Weatherspoon is a **** but when you look at the annual reports, the chain does pay a fair amount of UK tax, employ alot of young folks and keep interesting buildings open. Not saying good, but there is an element of “snobbery” in the anti-chain critique.
    5. Young folks are highly susceptible to marketing. I see crowds queuing outside “trendy” cafes to pay £10 for a latte and scone when there are other much cheaper options nearby. Consumer be aware!
    6. Day time menus usually cheaper than evening, same quality, more or less.
    7. Unfortunately, healthy and ethical eating is usually more expensive. Bon appetit!

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Shopping Cart
Scroll to Top