In the fourth of a five-part series, Eoin Higgins reveals the tricks of the restaurant racket to get you to spend more.
Part IV – On the Drink – How restaurateurs get you to have more than one for the road.
Many of the new breed of restaurant are a means to sell booze. The mark-up on the demon drink is too big to ignore. So you have these Frankenstein social centres that have popped across the land, ‘drinkaurants’, marketed as restaurants, but where the food is actually just an incidental accompaniment to the gargle. “Exciting cocktails” and “talented mixologist” are two phrases in heavy use that make my napkin curl. If a place is the kind of joint where you’re sitting there having dessert while someone is putting their Eggnog Gimlet down on your table, then I don’t want to know, or at least give me a discount for the inconvenience.
“Exciting cocktails” are bad enough and often a rip-off, but they pale before we get the restaurant’s best manifesto of marked-upness: the wine list. My number one tip on wine is to never go for the second cheapest bottle on the list, restaurateurs know the psychology of this choice (you don’t want to be seen to go for the cheapest) so typically that’s the bottle with the highest profit margin, i.e. the least bang for your buck. Go for the third or fourth, they always offer better value for money.
An interesting way to go about ordering wine when with a group if you don’t want to appear cheese-paring, is to point to a price on the menu and tell the waiter (or sommelier, if you’re lucky enough to have one) that you’d like to be “in this region”. Your fellow diners may think you’ve pointed to the Languedoc, but you’ve actually pointed at ‘€30’. This puts the server under no illusion as to how much you want to spend and can save you an eye-wateringly massive bill at the end of a meal.
And then, there are the water charges … so you get the question “Would you like some water for the table? Still!? Sparkling!? … or tap [you penurious git]? Don’t believe the hype, there’s no lead in the h2o, Irish water is (still) free and of excellent quality. So never feel unconfident when riling against the water charges.
Next week, The State of Independents – why it makes sense for everyone to support the independent guys.