I eat out a lot and, although the food, service and everything else might be great, there’s usually something that could have made the experience more enjoyable. Here’s a list in no particular order of importance of what would make for me the ideal dining experience. If you want to find your ideal dining experience, click here.
An important part of eating out is of course the food and you probably think in my ideal situation, the menu would be fully vegetarian/vegan. But, ha! No! I’d include one or two dishes for the meat eaters – say a lasagne or another equally uninspiring pasta dish – just so they get to feel the disappointment vegetarians feel upon looking at most restaurant menus. (To be fair, it’s got a lot better in recent times, especially in small local independent restaurants. The chains are still a bit shit though.)
About twenty years ago, a vegan restaurant in Knightsbridge called Veg existed. It was a fantastic high-end vegan Chinese restaurant with the greatest mock meat dishes I’ve ever had such as vegan chilli beef and vegan squid and it was worth the trek to the other side of London and the bank loan one needed to eat there to dine there. There have been dozens of Chinese mock meat buffets over the years but none that have matched the quality of Veg. I love mock meat and so my ideal restaurant would have plenty of it but also lots of non-mock meat dishes for people like my friend Tracey who finds it too close to the real thing. Also, my ideal restaurant would have vegan cheese that tasted like cheese but that’s probably taking the fantasy restaurant thing a bit too far.
Since I stopped drinking, I have taken an interest in what drinks other than alcohol are offered in pubs and restaurants. I’m not really fussed in cafes/when I’m out for lunch and a Coke is fine but when I’m out in the evening I don’t want to drink Coke or orange juice (in fact, I never want to drink orange juice) and so I would like a selection of alcohol-free lager and wine and a wider variety of soft drinks, juices and cordials.
Something other than listing Parmesan as an ingredient on a so-called vegetarian dish that is guaranteed to wind me up in a restaurant is the atmosphere. And when I say atmosphere, I mostly mean other people. Especially people who have brought children with them who clearly don’t want to be there, meaning the children aren’t enjoying themselves, the parents aren’t enjoying themselves and the other diners most certainly aren’t enjoying themselves either. Therefore, my fantasy restaurant would either have a no-children policy or a separate floor for them, safely out of the way of people who want to enjoy their meal in peace.
The use of mobile phones would also be banned and the tables wouldn’t be too close to each other and there wouldn’t be any tables shoehorned into spaces where tables shouldn’t be shoehorned into – e.g. next to the toilet, in a corridor, next to the kitchen or next to the till – in other words, not in a space that is going to be noisy or people-traffic-heavy.
It goes without saying that no jazz would be played.
Just use them, okay? I want my dinner on a plate. Not on a lump of wood or in a boot or on a spade. I don’t want my chips in a mini shopping trolley. In fact, I want my chips on the same plate as the rest of the food, not in a little bowl because, otherwise, where am I supposed to put the tomato sauce/mayo/condiment of my choice? Everyone hates food that’s not on a plate so why are restaurants still doing this? Aarrgghh.
I hate tipping. Let me rephrase that, because I don’t hate tipping per se; I just hate the concept of tipping. Why am I expected to top up someone’s wages? They’re there to do a job and to do that job to the best of their abilities. In a restaurant situation, that means being friendly, polite, helpful and efficient and I resent feeling obliged to reward someone doing something they’re supposed to be doing in the first place. And as for service charge – just fuck the fuck off. I go to a restaurant to be served and I don’t expect to have to pay extra for it.
And that is my ideal dining experience. Blimey, I sound grumpy, don’t I? Maybe I should just stay away from restaurants and stay in and order pizza instead.
This post is in collaboration with Square Meal.