Tuesday, 15 September 2009

Surviving In Britain #2: Eating Out

Oh you Americans. You have both the best and the worst restaurants on the planet. You will find most of them in Britain. You have probably heard it said (or maybe said yourself) that the British only had the Empire for the cuisine (totally failing to take into account the fact that American food without the immigrant influences is pretty dire). So here is my guide to eating in the UK.


The fundamental unit of breakfast is the Full English Breakfast. If you have booked a Bed & Breakfast room, this will be included in your rate. Otherwise I heartily recommend finding a café or "greasy spoon" which serves breakfast. You will receive, for about £3-4, eggs (fried, sunny side up - don't even contemplate asking for them any other way because we don't know what those other ways are), sausages (not frankfurters!), bacon (real bacon with actual meat on it rather than fried fat), baked beans (these are more like the beans in "Pork 'N' Beans" than your own baked beans), fried bread (hey, don't criticise - you put syrup on your sausage), possibly fried tomatoes or mushrooms, and if you're really lucky, black pudding. Black pudding is basically a blood sausage, and you'll get a couple of slices of it. Don't knock it until you've tried it. If you're a vegetarian, just have muesli or something - the Full English is not for you. The coffee will not be brilliant, and you will certainly not get free refills from anywhere unless explicitly stated. I suggest drinking tea for the week.

Lunch and Dinner

Since you'll probably be going to the same sort of places for each meal, let's combine the two. First up - soft drinks, soda, pop, whatever you want to call them. With a few exceptions (Pizza Hut, TGI Fridays, Subway) you will rarely get free refills on soft drinks. Some restaurants will charge an extortionate amount of money for non-alcoholic drinks. If you go to a Chinese restaurant, your best deal is to have green tea, as that is usually refilled for free. If you ask for water, make it clear that you want tap water, since restaurants have to provide you with free tap water if you want it. Our water does not taste of chlorine.

Our meal portions are generally smaller than yours, and more expensive for what you get. You will not have free chips and dip while you wait for your main course, or all you can eat salad. However, what you see on the menu is what you pay. Tax is included (and this applies to all prices for any goods or merchandise). Your only additional charge will be the waiting staff's tip (more on that with etiquette). If you're on a limited budget, try Wetherspoons pubs (if you can find one). They usually have two meals for £7-8, and they're filling. Wetherspoons also have real ales on tap (you will never go back to Budweiser), and they're often under £2 a pint, which is a price I haven't seen since my student days. If you are at a nicer restaurant though, you can usually get a doggy bag for your leftovers. It never hurts to ask.

What you won't be able to get

You will not be able to get Mountain Dew or root beer. You can get Dr Pepper though. You can buy lemonade and you can buy a Milky Way chocolate bar, but they will not be what you're expecting. You will be unlikely to find iced tea. Bread does not taste sweet over here. Our cheese is delicious. We're not big on items flavoured with peanut butter, although we're increasingly seeing Reese's products available. Kebabs are what British people eat at 3am when they're drunk and have the munchies. Do not consider going into a kebab shop prior to this point.

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