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Oi you! Yes you! The one whingeing about the cost of the restaurants I review: READ THIS. (A one-size-fits-all response).

The price of everything and the value of nothing.

 

Each week beneath my restaurant review in the Observer, somebody posts a comment complaining about the cost of the meal reviewed. Perhaps this week it was you. It happens literally every week, and every week some of us make an effort to respond. But I’m very bored of doing so. Hence, I have written this one-size-fits-all response to those crass, ignorant, virtue-signalling self-serving comments about price. For anybody who has ever whinged about the cost of meals in restaurants, this is for you.

 

The comments come in a variety of forms.

1.  I could make that at home for a tenth of the price. (Along with ‘I could feed my family for a week on that’ and ‘only an idiot would spend that sort of money on a meal.’)

2. There is something obscene about spending this sort of money in a restaurant when there are people feeding themselves from food banks.

3. I could never afford to spend that in a restaurant. How dare a so-called left-wing newspaper like the Observer give column inches to such things.

 

I will go through them in turn.

 

  • I could make this at home for a tenth of the price.

Firstly, unless you are a professional chef, you probably couldn’t. And if you actually were a professional chef you wouldn’t begrudge the cost of it. In any case if you made it at home, you wouldn’t have the 20% vat, plus the costs of the building, the utilities, and the staff both to cook it for you and to bring it to you. Presumably, as you care about cost, you want the people who work in restaurants to be paid a reasonable wage for their labour. Presumably you want quality ingredients not the cheapest of the cheap? Despite what cynical people like you think, restaurants are not a license to print money. They are brutally tough businesses, as the number of closures early in 2018 has proved. One of the major problems is British consumers like you who begrudge paying a reasonable amount of money for the experience.

As to being able to do it at home, if you really do feel like that perhaps you could just stay there and shut up while the rest of us get on with leading bigger, more interesting lives.

 

  • There is something obscene about spending this sort of money in a restaurant when there are people feeding themselves from food banks.

No there isn’t. Poverty is a terrible thing. I’ve written about it in detail. I’ve talked to people who use food banks, and their stories are awful. But the fact that some people who are not on the poverty line eat in restaurants does not make the situation worse for those who are. Poverty is a function of an unequal and dysfunctional economic system. That’s what needs to be sorted, not the price of a rib-eye steak in a restaurant. The fact is this. Some people have disposable income. They are entitled to spend it how they wish. I’ve pointed out before that, while people may complain about the cost of tickets to see premier league football teams play, nobody complains about people choosing to pay the price. Spending money to watch sport is somehow seen as authentic and real whereas spending it on dinner is degenerate. What utter bollocks. Some people like to spend their money on the opera or cars or holidays. Why the hell shouldn’t they? Who are you to tell them what they should spend it on?

What’s more some people on low incomes save up so they can afford to treat themselves. It’s their right. How dare you judge them for it.

 

  • I could never afford to spend that amount in a restaurant. How dare a so-called left-wing newspaper give column inches to such things.

I’m sorry you don’t earn enough to visit all the restaurants I write about. I love the thought of hand-made shoes and flying across the Atlantic first class. I don’t earn enough to be able to afford either of those things, but that doesn’t mean I immediately believe they shouldn’t exist. A lot of people can’t afford all the restaurants I write about but they still like reading about them. It provides vicarious pleasure. As to the view that the Observer is betraying its values by reporting on things that aren’t all dirt cheap, again – what utter bollocks. Does that mean we shouldn’t write about cars or holidays, theatre or fashion or new tech? Or is that different?

Let’s be clear. Some restaurants do take the piss money wise. And when they do, I say so. But there is a great difference between price and value. I have paid £400 of my own money for a meal that I thought was worth it. I purchased memories. That may not be the kind of memories you want but they are what I want. But I have also spent £20 on a meal that I thought was a rip off and I have said so. The issue is never the spending of money on food in restaurants. It’s always what that money buys.

Now do us all a favour: stop whingeing and leave the rest of us alone so we can carry on with the pleasurable business of discussing restaurants.

 

117 comments on “Oi you! Yes you! The one whingeing about the cost of the restaurants I review: READ THIS. (A one-size-fits-all response).

  1. Rob Maher on

    Well said. I enjoy reading the reviews, especially now that I live outside the UK and will probably never return to sample those restaurants myself. I find JR’s reviews amongst the best; amusing, detailed and fair. I must also say that there are far more mentions of places not giving good value than those who do. Keep up the good work!

    Reply
    • Di on

      Hi there ,
      Love your report ! We live in Spain and whilst
      Always worked hard myself NHS and husband Prison service we have never eaten in Michelin starred restaurants, however when I shop my local supermarket I am very often next to a Michelin starred chef buying his “locally sourced
      Produce” !!! The Mercadona in Calahonda must be where All fhe locally sourced produce for Marbella is bought (oops sorry grown )

      Reply
      • Albert Saunders on

        You’ve obviously done well out of the NHS and the Prison service to be able to afford to move to Spain. Well done to you.

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        • PiesMcQ on

          “you’ve done well *out of the NHS and prison service”” what a snide comment! implying they’ve somehow ripped of those institutions, whereas they probably worked in them for many years- selling their labour- for a deserved amount, bought a house with a mortgage which over the years they paid off, then retired with a good pension )which is what used to be unexceptional, until recently when politicians encouraged people without to see those with good public service pensions as monsters- lowest common denominator politics drag everyone down instead of strive that everyone should have good pensions) sold up their fully paid off house then moved to Spain something thats perfectly normal….or used to0 be, an opportunity that will soon be closed off to most people, no doubt to your great delight.

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      • Kate on

        The point you’ve missed is that in Spain 90% of the produce in the supermarket IS local, at least it is where we live.

        Reply
  2. Nikkie Patchett on

    Thank you so much, I have never begrudged paying for value. I work in the wine Industry and spend my life explaining why a good bottle of wine is worth paying the extra than a supermarket bottle.
    I love eating in top end restaurants because it is an experience, although Cordon Bleu trained and a Sommelier I could never produce the sheer artistry of some of the plates I love, and enjoy exploring wines that are not on my own list.
    Please continue doing your wonderful job, and expressing your opinions in people friendly language, I do not read the guardian yet always pull your reviews off the internet.
    You are my favourite critic, just, only just, ahead of Mr Campion.

    Reply
  3. Stella-Maria Thomas on

    Absolutely this! When my parents were still alive, my father, who had grown up in Germany in the 1920s was always convinced that money spent in restaurants was wasted and that it was cheaper and better to stay at home for events such as New Year. Now I’m quite happy to cook for everyone at New Year but I also know that the final year I did that I spent two full days in the kitchen and I logged all the costs including my time. What I spent on ingredients, gas, electricity and hot water would have more than paid for an excellent dinner for all of us that night, and I would not have been struggling to stay awake when midnight rolled around either! I love restaurants, be they three-starred efforts which I’ve eaten in on rare occasions, or small one/two man operations where the most you’ll spend on food is £50 a head or less and the memories are also the sort I want.

    Reply
  4. Paul on

    I’ve said it elsewhere and I’ll happily say it again. Your review of Le Cinq is one of the finest demolition jobs I’ve ever read.

    Keep it up.

    Reply
  5. Jill Papp on

    How bloody rude!
    Wouldn’t bother reading your ‘reviews’ with that attitude. Not that restaurant reviews are vaguely interesting to the intelligent reader!

    Reply
    • Mat S on

      “How bloody rude” decries random person on internet who has taken the time to visit someone’s blog, and provide comment about an article.

      I suspect the irony will be lost…

      Reply
    • David on

      Well you’re a treat, Jill, aren’t you. I’m not sure why intelligence would preclude anyone from reading restaurant reviews, but I hope your superiority keeps you warm at night.

      Reply
    • Claire Walsh on

      Your total failure to grasp the first class writing and wit of Jay’s reviews ( and your dessicated, humourless response) really shows that you’re not the intelligent reader you’re so desperate to appear to be.

      Reply
    • Tracey Ramsbottom on

      Well I think you are rude for suggesting readers of restaurant reviews are not intelligent . You enjoy you houmous sandwich on your own, big head !!

      Reply
    • Vinny R on

      “Not that restaurant reviews are vaguely interesting to the intelligent reader!”

      Erm, you call him rude and then go on to insult anyone who reads any restaurant review. Pot. kettle. Black.

      Reply
    • Kelly on

      How bloody rude you seem to be! Read Jay’s reviews then share your opinion. And please, check your reference to other people’s intelligence – your predjudice is showing.

      Reply
    • John on

      Perhaps you should stops whinging about people’s reasons for not eating out. There are valid reasons which you outlined for this. They speak more to the current financial climate than to some pseudo nonsense you dreamt up about our lack of culture. Most of us find it difficult to justify not just meals out but many other things these days and you don’t need to look very far to see most Britains are cutting back on life’s luxurious. Its not that we are unwilling to pay, we are unable to pay.. and this is humiliating to many. Sounds like you need a reality check!

      Reply
    • Jacqui Leppert on

      Then why are you even bothering to be looking on JR’s website?? Bizarre …. unless you are tied to a chair and forced to read it.

      Reply
    • Simonetta on

      For goodness sake! I used to run a very reasonably priced but good small and busy restaurant. It was quite disheartening how many would come up with those exact whinges. Just bitterness and negativity. Horrible ingredients. Absolutely the opposite of what good eating is about. The first night I opened I let everyone eat for nothing, dossers, lawyers and all. We never had a quiet night after that. Been there since ‘72.
      I’ll be ruder about the whiners. F*ck ‘em.

      Reply
    • Zee on

      Bbbbbbuuuuttttt…. you’re on his site… reading his content…. *Dumb dumb Jill papp papp papp* or whatever Rihanna said in that song.

      Eeejit.

      Reply
  6. Will Ross on

    I have nothing against food porn. Indeed, I rather enjoy it.
    For some reason, though, it seems to find itself in the “Lifestyle” section rather than in “Culture”, where it belongs. Why shouldn’t Lifestyle articles relate to the lives of the readership?

    Reply
  7. Mat S on

    Jay, thanks for this excellent blog post.

    As a photographer charging what I consider to be competitive prices given how much person-time goes into a given commission, I’m not unfamiliar with hearing price whinges when reading stuff online.

    Gladly, however, in my personal and work life, it doesn’t happen. There is a steady stream of enquiries every day, and the ones who find my pricing too high leave me alone and the ones who hire me understand what goes into it!

    Hence, it’s actually quite a comfortable world for me to live in, where most of the people I meet face to face understand and appreciate the value of good work.

    This, I guess, is the opposite of your line of work, where you’re paid to write things in a newspaper for literally EVERYONE to have an opinion on.

    Still, they are just internet comments, and as we all know the internet is full of shit-stirrers.

    Rest assured, the silent majority of people who have a life appreciate your work, and don’t comment at all; it’s only the noisy minority with something to prove who make comments. Hence a high proportion of comments are negative.

    Good for you for posting this, and it’s nice to see someone keeping their responses to comments classy in the face of such trolly behaviours. M

    Reply
    • SOPhoto on

      It’s great to see people voicing ‘how it is’. Very refreshing!
      As a fellow photographer and a lover of good food, nicely said both Mat and Jay.

      Reply
  8. Joe T Redneck on

    Well said sir!
    The old phrase “He is knows the price of everything but is unaware of the value of anything” springs to mind.

    Reply
  9. Nicci Morris on

    What an excellent blog – I hope you don’t mind me using some of your arguments when I get the same comments from people. You are spot on about the reverse snobbery in the cost of buying a ticket to a sporting event versus a great meal. I have also found that people who are happy to spend a small fortune on a night on the lash and a curry will think you are gullible for spending the equivalent in a restaurant.

    Reply
  10. Mikev Locke on

    I worked a lifetime in the catering industry from the top of high end to producing home meals for the elderly and disadvantaged and having survived I promised myself that Having spent a lifetime putting “ Nothing but the best” in front of all sorts of luminaries I was going to eat in the places that produce “ nothing but the best” and I do and have some wonderful world wide experiences and —- I make it at home as well !
    I also love beans on toast .

    Reply
    • Bede Beaumont on

      Well said,I am the same.after thirty years of cooking I’m tired of the hours time of doing my best always.tired of fighting to get a fair price.tired of ignorance

      Reply
  11. Helen T on

    Excellent and well said. I am on a low income and choose to visit Michelin starred restaurants as a Christmas or birthday treat because we enjoy and appreciate good food. That’s my choice and I happily make sacrifices elsewhere. Luckily for me my partner is an excellent cook so we always look forward to an inventive and inspiring dinner when we eat out – something we couldn’t make at home. Jay, you didn’t mention the cost of recipe development- I think some restaurants have chefs whose sole job is to invent new dishes. This all has to be paid for too.

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  12. David Robinson on

    Your comments are also applicable to other areas of the ‘craft’ food sector.Having been a master baker for over 40 years I know what it’s like to hear ‘ how much “when we charge more than the supermarkets for a loaf which has been made with love & care as opposed to on a production line in a factory.

    Reply
  13. Tony Delaney on

    It’s my birthday tomorrow and my wife and I will be lunching in a small local establishment. The chef has a Michelin star. He works very hard alone in his kitchen. The food is unique and not cheap. Works for me.

    Reply
  14. Gareth s on

    Spot on what most people don’t understand is the time and labor that chefs do I’m a chef my self and have worked 70-100 hour weeks for the last 10 years most of the time on under min wage like most chefs so people should think of what gos on behind close doors before they say anything

    Reply
  15. Heidi Roberts on

    Hear hear! Great post!! I do restaurant reviews for my blog and people often say how lucky I am! Luck doesn’t come into it – the work starts the moment I enter the premises and continues long after I get home!!

    Reply
  16. Jackie on

    Absolutely fantastic! Why can’t us foodies save each month and have an almighty blow out at somewhere we’ve only dreamed of? I’m currently saving up to book the ‘Fat Duck’ My choice, my money, my savings. I’m hurting no one but as you say creating the most amazing memories for my husband and I. I’m asking no one else to pay for me, I work full time, pay a mortgage, have an 11yr old whomthanks to us and people like you Jay, already has a great love of food, flavour and amazing restaurants.
    I love love love this article and may now even start to read the Observer

    Reply
  17. Alexandra on

    I have loved you from afar for what feels like an inordinate period of time and your pithy yet witty response to the curmudgeons who lets face it are not forced to read your missives with a gun to their head but do so because they choose to with well honed spite tinged with provincial outrage has done nothing to dampen my ardour. Well said. (Your liberal use of the word ‘bollox’ is terribly endearing). Sadly having met your lovely wife I under my feelings must remain anonymous and unrequited but don’t stop, don’t ever stop defending the rights of the greedy to graze freely from the banquet of life. JR I salute You.

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  18. Gareth Bradley on

    I find that people say the same things when chatting about various meals or restaurants socially. All the same points that you have raised. I reply much in the same way, also adding, “how would you know that it’s a waste of money? Have you been?”.

    Reply
  19. Matt Green on

    Hell yes Jay! I’m an artisan chocolatier in the UK midlands, and before that worked in a restaurant that charged $400 a head in Australia. All of your comments apply to my experience both then and now! It’s not how much money you spend, it’s what the money buys!

    Reply
  20. Lynne Jarche Ford on

    So agree with you. The only thing I regret having to pay for is the large round thing I carry in front as a badge of my chosen job. Yes that ‘apple’/spare tyre. Good food and wine is so worth paying for. And outing bad food or value is essential. But carefully and with humour. Like you do!

    Reply
  21. Russ Collinson on

    My wife and I visit “top end” establishments whenever we can, and we are by no means on a high income yet a particular couple we know berate us for spending £200-300 on an experience (not just a meal) once every couple of months, yet we see social media posts of them every weekend drinking elaborate “delboy” style cocktails in so-called trendy city centre bars that have probably cost £10-15 each…

    We have splendid memories of our evenings, and don’t feel terrible for it the next day either. As you said Jay, you are purchasing memories. Can I ask, do you have any intention to visit Mark Birchall’s Moor Hall in Aughton any time soon?

    Reply
  22. Denis Albutt on

    I totally agree with you. When counting the cost of a meal at home, people only consider the cost of the ingredients and do not take into account a proportion of the costs of the home, furniture, cutlery, glasses, kitchen equipment, electricity, labour etc. Therefore they are deluding themselves of the true cost of a home cooked meal. I found your little book on your worst restaurant reviews a great read and highly entertaining.

    Reply
  23. Julian Tagger on

    I have a restaurant in a small town, Amble in Northumberland. We do a 3 course offer 12/6.30pm for …… £8.95…… all fresh ingredients. Ham & lentil soup, Fish, steak pie, lambs fry, mince n dumpling, whole tail scampi,plus vegetarian options, all fresh vegetables, chefs crumble or ice cream….and I still get moans re the price!!!! You will NEVER escape the moaners, keep up the great reviews…After 50 years Roll on retirement
    Julian

    Reply
  24. Megan on

    I particularly like to part where you counter the “I can do this at home for less narrative”. There is a similar moan circulating w/in surplus food distribution. Those who are asked to donate or pay as they feel quite loudly complain because they feel that if the organisation doing the redistribution gets the food for free so should they. 1) if you can’t pay, these orgs are fine with that in my experience. 2) while the food is free, the building, the council rates, the vehicle that did the collection etc—all the infrastructure that enables access to this food— is not free. Moreover, we should also pay those doing this work a decent wage. Making free food available costs money—just like any other food.

    Reply
  25. Angry Waiter on

    Thank you! I work in a restaurant and I am constantly frustrated with people complaining about prices and insinuating that somehow they are my “fault” and that I can change them if they glare at me for long enough (I am a waiter in Manchester, I can’t change the prices and I most certainly don’t wish to). If I hear “we wouldn’t pay these prices in London, so the difference is coming out of your tip” one more time! You see the price when you sit down and when you order, so don’t complain about it after you’ve devoured the whole thing! …and dont penalise me because you are a tightfisted snob who definitely couldn’t make it at home for a fraction of the cost.

    Reply
  26. Adam Bates on

    I love taking my wife out on dates and as we are in our late 50s pubs and clubs are not our thing; restaurants are. They give us such pleasure and very rarely do we winge about the price. I choose to spend my money on good food & wine, not SKY nor going to football matches nor west end plays nor fast cars nor concerts. It is not just the food, it is the atmosphere. It is learning about new styles of wine. It is the excitement of trying new places or the comfort of old friends. It is writing off a Sunday afternoon after a big lunch. When I grew up in Belfast in the 1960s & 1970s this was not possible. This is a wonderful development for our society.

    Reply
  27. Alicia on

    And if they are charging less, where are the cuts being made? Are the staff salaries being made up out of the tips? Are they paying staff cash under the table? Are they paying tax? Or are they just going to declare bankruptcy and shaft their suppliers (not that they need to be charging less to do that).

    Reply
  28. Flash Bristow on

    HEAR HEAR!

    Particularly the point about the cost being cheaper at home. I recently saw an episode of Restaurant Rescue (if you haven’t seen it I’m sure you can guess the premise). One restaurant, a small place in an everyday town, was helped by being closed more often. It cost £89 per day in bills (rent etc.) for the restaurant to exist. That’s when it is closed. While open, it also had to cover staff costs, energy costs, and incidentals like breakages, napkins (either disposable or laundry costs) and so on.

    Reckon you could make the meal cheaper at home? Include a couple of rooms’ worth of your mortgage for the day, the cost of heat and light, plus your time to prep the food and wash up afterwards, as well as whatever you paid for the ingredients. It’s not as cheap as you assume once you are realistic about the overheads. Plus, in a restaurant you can take the weight off your feet, relax and be waited on. I can’t afford to do that every day, but I really appreciate it when I get the opportunity.

    The £89 cost, for every day that the restaurant exists *let alone is open* made me think. Perhaps the BTL commenters need their minds opened a little more widely, despite being readers of a fairly liberal publication.

    Reply
  29. Neil Rusbridger on

    As a ‘retired’ restaurateur of some 30 plus years; having invested eight years going through catering college, then onto the likes of Chewton and The Waterside, amongst others and not even mentioning the time spend working on the management side; all to perfect ones craft, often on punitive contracts! This was even before opening the doors to earn any kind of reputation and swallowing the losses of wasted food when some customers complained it ‘wasn’t to their liking’, (despite sometimes the table next to them praising the dish, as the best they’d eaten!), one naturally because of pride, would do whatever one could to appease them. Little hope but the price of opinion and free speech?

    However, how very heartening to see such and immenient and respected writer, put into such eloquent words, the feelings felt, by the ramblings of an ignorant minority of diners, who’s gripe is always to complain whatever with their goal; often a hefty discount, or better still a freebie. That way they can still go home and pretend to be messrs Rayner and Co, by expressing to the world how shabbily they had been treated – and ripped off to boot!

    Fortunately now that boot is on the other foot, because now having been demoralised enough to give up the restaurant fight (and allowing all the ‘extremly cheap and fantastic ‘value’ chain “restaurants” to succeed!!), now as a private chef, patrons can indeed say how much better it is to eat at home and I don’t have a quarter of the overheads; none of the worries of no shows, or if anyone will come through the door – but able to charge the same if not more and (touch wood) never receiving one comment about being ‘over charged’.

    I feel justice has been done and even more so now having read this excellent article. Thank you sir.

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