There’s nothing quite like eating out, is there? Romantic dinners for two, a big birthday blowout meal, lunch with a friend, the office annual Christmas dinner, or just a fun filled night out with a group of friends. They’re all great fun, and we all love nothing more than treating ourselves to lunch or dinner at our favourite restaurant!
But watch out and start looking over your shoulder, because now Big Brother is queuing up to join you. As if there isn’t enough red tape already in the catering sector, the Whitehall bureaucrats now want restaurants and food chains to join its ‘Responsibility Deal’.
Last year, the Government launched its voluntary scheme to encourage restaurants and food outlets to put nutritional information on menus. At the moment it’s voluntary, but be warned: the pressure’s mounting.
Forty-two companies are reputed to have signed-up, yet none of them seem to be boasting too much about it. In fact, finding out exactly which companies have volunteered has proved… shall we say… challenging. Apart from the usual fast food suspects like McDonalds, KFC, Greggs and Subway, and a smattering of contract caterers, we’ve only managed to identify Pizza Hut, Yo! Sushi and Harvester as the only restaurant or casual dining participants.
Surely, if this was such a great idea, wouldn’t they be shouting it from the rooftops? So, does that mean the whole thing is a damp squib? (Of course, it could just be that they don’t have me, to help them with their marketing!)
But, what I really want to know is this: were the dining rooms in the House of Commons the first to sign up? Or are the fat cats in the corridors of power just expecting us to ‘do as they say, not as they do’ as they complain about their subsidised chips?
You know me, I don’t rant until I’m sure of my facts – and my research shows, that as customers, we just don’t want to know how many calories we’re consuming when it comes to special occasions, and eating out, is one such occasion.
The average Brit eats out 2.1 times per 2-week period, compared to 3.3 visits, pre-recession. But even though they’re eating out less, they are spending more on each visit, (and they are spending more than inflation too,) as average figures have risen from £10.29 to £13.80. This tells us, as I suspected, that when consumers are eating out, they’re going out for treats.
If, we’re going out for a treat, it goes with out saying that we will want our veal escalopes pan-fried in butter and a satisfying dollop of whipped cream on our strawberry bavarois.
Yes, we’ll be disciplined and healthy at other times, especially during the week, when we’ll dutifully consume our low fat, salt-free delights along with our required five-a-day. When it comes to eating out, we want to treat our taste buds and hang the consequences. And as any nutritional restaurant information can’t possibly be 100% accurate, it’s all completely academic anyway!
Let’s consider the practicalities of nutritional labelling for those amazing restaurants that lovingly cook and prepare our culinary delicacies from scratch, using simple ingredients…
The poor front of house staff, who instead of passing you their select and sophisticated menu, will be forced to lug weighty tomes from table to table.
Are you a decisive ‘orderer’ or do you linger and salivate over the thought of every delicious choice? Forget going out for something quick to eat when you’re hungry then! If you need half an hour for each course just to weigh up your nutritional choices, you won’t get as far as the hors d’oeuvres by closing time.
Have you ever been behind the scenes in a busy restaurant or hotel kitchen? No? I can tell you it’s frantic, fast and very furious. But I’m sure you won’t mind waiting an extra thirty minutes or so, for your freshly cooked-to-order dinner, because Chef has to painstakingly measure every drizzle of his extra virgin olive oil, control every parsnip puree scrape, and weigh every carefully turned potato fondant. Because if he doesn’t, Big Brother will be watching and those carefully calculated nutritional stats printed on your menu will be straight out the window!
And if you’re one of those pudding-people who dream of cavorting bare-foot through the sweet trolley – forget it! Big Brother will no doubt insist on strict pre-packed portion control from now on, lest another 50 calories finds its way to your unsuspecting plate.
Of course, all this begs yet another question. How will it be managed? Are we going to have undercover nutritional police surreptitiously smuggling food into their napkins for secret testing? Perhaps our friends from Trading Standards could pop in with their scales and calorie counters from time to time – you wouldn’t mind sharing your Dover sole with them, would you?
I think the message here is ‘get real’! Its about time Big Brother realised we’re grown up consenting adults and capable of making our own decisions.
On the other hand, perhaps the responsibility deal mob should join forces with the economic austerity brigade, just to make doubly certain we don’t enjoy the few pleasures we have left…