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The Restaurant Racket: Share & Share, Dislike

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In the third of a five-part series, Eoin Higgins reveals the tricks of the restaurant racket to get you to spend more.

Part III – Share & Share, Dislike – How canny bean-counters make you order sharing plates in order to make you feel hungrier.

Of all the restaurant concepts out there to make you spend more, I have a particular aversion to the ‘small plate’ style of service, This is where you’re encouraged (because there’s no other choice) to have a meal via any number of ‘small plates’ instead of through a more traditional starter and main structure. How many small plates is too much, how many are not enough? It’s an extra layer of uncertainty that no one needs.

Unless I’m in a tapas bar, or indulging in an array of Lebanese mezze, I’d rather just stick with normal sized portions, please. Yet the small plate trend seems to creeping in everywhere and it’s a racket, plain and simple.Restaurants try to sell this as a “wonderful for sharing” concept when in fact it’s the very antithesis of something worth sharing. If your dish is too small for one person, how is it “ideal for sharing”? It hardly makes any sense, but I can see how a restaurant (ka-chinging all the way to the till) might enjoy diners having to order four, or more, rounds of dishes in order to feel satisfied. All the while diners, who think they’re spending less because everything is so cheap individually, actually end up spending way more, because, well, in reality a satay skewer doesn’t really go that far between four hungry mouths. I’m appetized, goddammit, give me a main course …

There are, of course, the more traditional ways to get you to order too much too, with listings on menus like Sides, Nibbles, Platters, Bites and various other annoying ‘mealettes’. And we all know the “would you like some sides with that?” scam. If you have to order, and pay for, everything on a plate separately, you’re not going to be happy come bill time. What’s next? “There is a spice rack rental charge on all of our seasoning, sir”, or “Sorry madam, you’ll have to print out your own menu.” None of this nonsense a happy diner maketh.

If a chef or restaurant hasn’t the wherewithal to create a satisfying standalone dish that doesn’t require expensive add-ons to complete it then I’m not all that inspired by their ability. So, next time you’re faced a geansaí-load of small things on a menu: under order, it’s always easier to order more later, or go elsewhere for a Happy Meal, if the entire experience leaves you feeling a little empty inside.

Next week … Part IV – Whine Tasting – How to get the best value out if a wine list and avoid being stung with the bitter dregs.

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