Tirades: British restaurant prices

Soutpiel Safari
John & Jenny
Wed 10 Nov 2010 06:15
From time to time you will encounter tirades in these columns.  You have already had my views on Banks and Bankers; there's more to come!
You may think that these are the rantings of an embittered old man - a Victor Meldrew look-alike, perhaps.  I like to think that they are the balanced views and opinions of a mature, well educated, reasonably intelligent, person who has had the good fortune to have travelled widely and worked for significant periods overseas, experiencing other cultures and employing a multi-national, multi-ethnic workforce.  Take your pick!
I have long held the view that British restaurant prices are ridiculous.  When in South Africa we are fortunate to be able to eat out, experiencing good food, excellent cuisine and excellent wines at an average of only 40% of equivalent British prices.  Last night, as it was blowing Severe Gale Force 9 outside and near zero temperature, we elected to eat in the hotel restaurant.  Now this is not some rustic hovel in the back of beyond, it is a modern hotel on the edge of a major European city, with a multi-lingual staff.  The menu featured a "Daily Menu" for an all-inclusive 11.90 euros - about £10.50.  There was a choice of 6 starters, 6 main courses and 6 desserts.  The price also included one drink - either wine, beer or water. Jenny went for white wine and I took the red. We expected a glass each but received a whole bottle each! The food was good, without being excellent. The value was excellent and this comparison is at a time when the Euro is very strong against the Pound.
Recently we had eaten out with friends in a UK pub where the surroundings were delightful, the menu, the food and the wines being very good.  Most of us had only two courses and yet the bill per couple was £67. This is not untypical of UK restaurant eating and yet the price was three times that of our Spanish experience.  It has always baffled me how British restauranteurs can justify taking a bottle of wine that one can buy in the supermarket for £6-£8 tax-paid, and selling it for £15-£25.  But the Brits seem willing to pay it - so, why not?
Earlier in the day we had called for lunch in a small bar/cafe and had freshly prepared hamburgers for 2.40 euros each - about £2.15.  Fresh ingredients with a fresh bun, absolutely delicious! Both quality and value far exceeded anything available in the UK.
The surprising thing is that British pubs and restaurants are booming, with no lack of customers - at least in the South East.  Something is wrong, somewhere.