On the face of it, eating out when you’re visiting a foreign country should be one of the least complicated things you’re faced with; it’s a pretty universal activity, after all. However, as with everything in a different culture, there are expectations, etiquette to follow and unique ways of doing things. Here are the six things you may want to consider when considering dining out in London…
If you’ve visiting London from the United States, then you’ll find the restaurant and eating etiquette much the same – if you’re visiting from South East Asia, the Middle East or parts of Africa for instance though, you might be a little less used to the died-in-the-wool cuisine customs in the UK. To wit, eating with a knife and fork is almost always normal (even for pizza, but not so for bread). Chewing with your mouth closed is considered good manners, as is talking relatively quietly when dining with others in public. London’s far from a place driven by decorum, but there are some unspoken rules!
In all fairness, the majority of visitors to London are versed enough in the local lingo to be able to get by in a restaurant or to order from an eatery – so universal is the English language. However, it’s definitely as well to remember common phrases from the customer lexicon of such places. That is, phrases like ‘Can I see a menu/ drinks’ menu/ dessert menu, please?’, ‘I’d like the bill, please’ and ‘Can I have a glass of tap-water?’ (free water for which you won’t have to pay) are all highly useful.
Nowadays, the most direct and often best advised way to find the ideal restaurant for you is, of course, to take to the ’Net and conduct an online search. And, quite frankly, so busy are you likely to be during your short-break in the UK capital (so much to see and do!) and so jam-packed with fine dining options is it, your best bet to find exactly the sort of eating-out experience you desire is by turning to the wondrous resources the Internet offers.
Having said that, though, you may wish to find a dining venue for yourself the old-fashioned way – you’re visiting London for pleasure after all, right? In the spirit of slowing down, indulging yourself and having a relaxing time, why not take advantage of all the aforementioned restaurant, café and pub options dotted throughout the city (it’s quite possible you’ll find two or three down many a street in the West End). There’s nothing wrong with following your nose and taking something of a lucky dip. Moreover, if you don’t want to deploy digital technology to find your restaurant, you could turn to the hotel where you’re staying. There’s a good chance, should you be staying at a quality, affordable place like the Marble Arch by Montcalm London hotel, you’ll discover it has several dining options – this one, for instance, is blessed by its own restaurant as well as The Crescent Restaurant and Lounge, the Nirvana Kitchen and Nirvana Bar at its neighbouring property.
Unlike in the United States, where waiting staff will expect a tip of anything between 15% and 25% of the overall bill, in the UK the tipping culture isn’t quite so generous and a little looser in its expectations – for better or worse. It’s best to check on the bill itself, when it arrives, whether a ‘surcharge’ is included – if it is, don’t tip on top; if it isn’t, do so between 10% and 15%. Be aware that in some places (pubs that don’t serve food, for instance), tipping isn’t common and should you insist on doing so it may actually rile the staff because it’s against the rules for them to accept a tip and so could get them in trouble. If in doubt then, always ask first.
Different cultures mean different meal times. It’s fair to say that this may be news to most British people – or at least it is that 10-11pm’s commonly dinner time in the likes of Spain, Portugal and Latin America and that New York eateries like to employ two ‘sittings’ (the first usually around 5.30pm). Being a hugely multicultural and enlightened metropolis, though, London enjoys restaurants that remain open until at least 11pm (the final serving is probably going to be around 10pm then), while owing to evening theatre shows – which tend to begin around 7.30pm – like in NYC, you’ll find many West End restaurants employ a ‘double sitting’ policy of an evening. As ever, though, if in doubt, ask an eatery’s staff member when they finish serving food and when they close for the night.