Twelve things to be wary of while eating out
1. Familiar with Today’s Special? Well, these are often over-priced. Often, the only special thing about them is that they are seasonal. Actually seasonal dishes should be cheap, but ‘Specials’ aren’t, and the only thing special about them is often just the price!
2. Impressive looking buffets are often great at disguising stale food. You are attracted by the price at which you get a wide variety of dishes, but chefs can be pretty ingenious in couching stale food in innovative salads and vague looking curries.
3. In any case don’t assume any dish is fresh unless you’ve seen it cooking yourself. Hotels frequently use frozen ingredients. The danger is that one doesn’t know how often it has been re-frozen.
4. There’s the question of colours too. In India, a wide range of colours (including those banned in developed countries) are allowed in food and there is little supervision from the authorities. This means that colours and flavours are used liberally in hotels in India and also in mithai. There is far more control on the usage of synthetic colours and flavours in packaged and branded food sold by companies than the usage in food sold in hotels.
5. Synthetic and processed thickeners/powders are routinely used for soups, curries and sauces, yes even in five-star hotels.
6. At times you get impressed when you hear that a certain celebrity frequents a particular food joint. This comes across as news, but it is usually ‘arranged’ and paid for.
7. Nothing is free really. Even if you get bread sticks free or Kimchi, rest assured that it’s all factored into the cost of the dishes.
8. There are some restaurants which levy a service charge. There is this restaurant called Ruby Tuesday which levies a service charge even on their salad bar! Here the waiter does nothing but bring you the bill. And even otherwise, the service charge is levied whatever the quality of the service.
9. If you are in a hurry and ask the waiter if a particular dish will be ready in ten minutes and he says yes, he actually means not on your life! Waiters and cooks in restaurants live in a different time zone. Our ten minutes equals their 20. They want you to linger…why you just might order that drink you didn’t want to! Mark-ups on drinks are usually very high.
10. We all have been disappointed at the size of our servings haven’t we! But what about when restaurants don’t tell you that ordering one dish is enough? Recently we ordered Sarson ka Saag at this restaurant called Only Parathas and found that it was enough for two people! But it was too late to cancel our other order.
11. A trick restaurants use to justify the price of dishes is to use fancy, foreign sounding names.
12. Don’t take restaurant reviews in newspapers and magazines to heart. Reviewers get special treatment!
(Photographs are by me. While most of the tips are from my own experience and observation I have also referred to this Guardian article)