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UK restaurant pricing rules


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After the Locatelli truffle controversy and Scottnsam's odd VAT experience at Foliage, I thought a good way of avoiding what I should be doing would be to get Googling on the relevant rules. Turns out that most of the issues are regulated by the Price Marking (Food and Drink on Premises) Order 1979. There was a consultation on this last year (mainly concerned, it seems, with the overpricing of soft drinks) but it looks like so far the order is still where we're at. There's a summary and discussion available here as part of the 2001 consultation, but the salient points seem to be as follows.

I'm not a lawyer and this is intended to stimulate eGullet discussion only. It should not be construed in any way as offering legal advice of any kind.

Food prices must be indicated. Any additional charges (eg service charges) must be as prominent as the price of the food. (Ha.) Price can be by item or by unit of measurement (Article 3).

If there are fewer than 30 items of food and drink available (other than table wine) prices for all must be displayed. If there are more then the prices of at least 30 must be displayed. If the price display (that's menu to you and me) is sub-divided into particular categories (starters, for example) than the price must be shown for each item in a category if there are 5 or less, or at least 5 items in a category if there are more than 5. (A4)

(thus it looks like Locatelli were within the law assuming more than 5 primi on the menu?)

The price of any table d'hôte menu (though not necessarily the contents) must be given. (A4)

Advertised food should be available but if not the indication of availability must be removed after the food becomes unavailable.

Rules for wine prices mirror those for food above. Six wines or less, or 2 or less in each category (red, white, rosé according to the government), must have prices displayed. (A5)

Prices must be inclusive of value added tax. (A6).

(This is the shortest and clearest rule of all and there's a note in the consultation paper that the Government does not intend to change it. 'This requirement conforms with other price marking legislation which also requires that prices be inclusive of all taxes in order to aid pricing transparency for consumers.' So what are Foliage up to?)

Price displays should be 'clear and legible and easily read by an attending purchaser'. Additional charges, such as minimum or service charges, must be indicated as prominently as the price of food. (A7)

For 'eating areas' (as opposed to 'supply areas', where you pay at the counter and carry your own food to the table), prices must be shown at or near the entrance so that the customer can see them before s/he enters. Thus stand-alone restaurants should show prices visible from the street, restaurants in hotels at the entrance to the dining area. Special provision is made for railway dining cars: lucky Virgin Trains. (A7)

Them seem to be the rules.

(Edit: '... after the food becomes unavailable' would make more sense, no?)

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Some interesting notes from the consultation aspect of the document for those of you with more important things to do than read through the whole thing:

1. Reasons that restaurants, unlike bars, have to show menus legible from outside include the consideration that people will spend more in a restaurant (clearly the drafters hadn't anticipated the Sanderson) and it's 'more embarrassing to leave a restaurant, especially after being approached by a member of staff, than to leave a bar'. There's also more diversity across restaurants and greater price/product comparison is expected of consumers before deciding on one.

2. There is some discussion of requiring all charges, including service charges, to be shown inclusively where possible. Noted issues include [a] that consumers may assume they must pay for service, even though they are not happy with it, and that it's harder to make a deduction of an included charge; consumers may feel pressurized into making an additional payment for service [no mention of leaving the credit card slip open]; [c] this would increase likelihood of service charge counting towards waiters' minimum wage.

3. The question of whether the selection of 30 items (5 in each section, etc) on the menu should be required to be 'representative' is raised: one method could be a requirement to list the cheapest and most expensive items within a category (hello white truffle pasta).

4. There is some discussion of requirements to specify items for which prices must be listed, presumably rather like in Italian bars where you can always see the price of a cup of coffee, a glass of water, etc, on a regulated display.

Oh yeah: I forgot to mention the enforcement/penalties section. Enforcement is the responsibility of local authorities (is Foliage in Westminster or RBKC?). The penalties are -- on conviction on indictment an unspecified fine; or on summary conviction, a fine not exceeding £5,000.

Edit: is it Explorer or eGullet that keeps turning my bracketed c into a copyright symbol?

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Prices must be inclusive of value added tax. (A6).

Hey, first time this year that I've been right about something.

Enforcement is the responsibility of local authorities (is Foliage in Westminster or RBKC?). The penalties are -- on conviction on indictment an unspecified fine; or on summary conviction, a fine not exceeding £5,000

So if a group of 24 of us goes in there, they'd do better to waive the bill than have us report them to the Trading Standards Ofice ? Wonderful :rolleyes:

is it Explorer or eGullet that keeps turning my bracketed c into a copyright symbol?

It's Explorer. You see, Microsoft assume that you don't have a mind of your own :angry:

Great job, Kikujiro. I think you've been appointed UK Board Consumer Affairs Officer now. Congratulations :biggrin:

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Kikujiro -- I disagree with many of the above legal provisions. They assume a passive, "waiting to be spoon fed" diner who doesn't know anything about the general restaurant landscape and who has no common sense. If I were talking along the road, were hungry and stumbled upon, say, Petrus, I wouldn't think that it was an inexpensive restaurant. I don't need the menu to be displayed. It's evident from not only the decor, but also the way in which the dining room team members are dressed, the lighting, the "look" of the other diners (to the extent visible initially) and the neighborhood in which the restaurant is located that Petrus is not an inexpensive restaurant. If all those cues were insufficient, and I cared about the pricing levels, I could consult a restaurant guide, do research on the web or call to inquire (including anonymously).

It's like a person who does not adhere to dress code. I don't believe a restaurant need affirmatively mention a jacket and/or tie poilcy to clients making reservations. Clients should either know enough about the restaurant to deduce the code, err on the side of being dressed up or inquire. :hmmm:

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Cabrales: I disagree :sad: . There is a tremendous scale of 'expensive' restaurants. For many people Mezzo would constitute an expensive restaurant. While people like you could probably gauge the cost of a meal at Pétrus versus Mezzo without inspecting the menu, I don't think it's reasonable to expect everybody to have that level of knowledge. Nor would one necessarily guess the relative expense of eating at, say, the River Café from looking at "the decor ... the way in which the dining room team members are dressed, the lighting, the 'look' of the other diners (to the extent visible initially) and the neighborhood in which the restaurant is located."

Furthermore, I expect the vast majority of people (those whom the law is designed to protect) certainly care at some point about the pricing levels, and I don't think it's entirely fair to expect all diners to do advance research or make anonymous phone calls. Some -- most -- people do like to walk in on the spur of the moment. Of course, people considering dining at Pétrus probably can't do that, but then they're hardly the focus of the legislation. The vast majority of dining out in this country is not the kind with which eGullet members tend to be concerned (and does not involve a dress code).

To be honest, I think your idea of what it's reasonable to expect of restaurant diners -- that they be more or less as knowledgeable as you -- is rather romantic and very unrealistic. As something of a film obsessive, I tend to be aware of the previous work of the cast, director, writer and often producers and DoPs of the films I watch, but I hardly think that should be an entrance requirement at the cinema.

Restaurants are paid to provide product and service and in nearly all other such circumstances the purchaser is more or less aware in advance of the amount s/he is committed to paying. And of course, the arrangement also protects restaurateurs from diners who can't afford to eat at their establishments.

Apart from feeling it's unnecessary, are you actively against menus being displayed outside restaurants?

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Apart from feeling it's unnecessary, are you actively against menus being displayed outside restaurants?

Kikujiro -- No, apart from believing that it is unnecessary at certain (not all) places, I don't have an objection to the display of menus. Menus should be displayed in a visually pleasing manner to the extent practicable.

Note that, if a diner is interested in pricing, she could go into the restaurant and ask to review the menu. I don't think there's anything shameful about that. The diner is not necessarily looking only at prices; she could be reviewing the appropriateness of the dishes for her. And so what if she were indeed studying prices? I have done that on trips to places where the menus were not displayed, and where I was not visiting a restaurant that is not a "destination" venue or a venue with which I was familiar. For places that require reservations, that process of evaluation should presumably be handled before the making of a reservation.

On studying prices, I do not consider that an adverse factor with respect to a diner's interactions with a restaurant. Because I dine alone and sometimes drink champagne, I often review the wine list before ordering an aperatif. For example, I might order 1/2 bottle or a bottle of champagne and begin with that without a separately ordered aperatif. Diners can be empowered if only they didn't worry about how a restaurant perceived them. It's many things that influence a restaurant's perception of a diner.

On your perceptions of my romanticism, is it too much to ask that a diner either be proactive, or suffer the risk of varying outcomes?

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On your perceptions of my romanticism, is it too much to ask that a diner either be proactive, or suffer the risk of varying outcomes?

It's not an unreasonable thing to ask. But legislation isn't designed around what's reasonable, it's designed around what's realistic :wink:

As for being empowered by not caring how you're perceived: you forget which nation this legislation pertains to :smile:

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Kikujiro -- Regarding the UK, that's partly my point. If diners were less concerned about how they were perceived, they might be more proactive, including with respect to prices to the extent they cared. Separately, I don't necessarily think that studying a menu will place a diner in a poor light in many restaurants' eyes; there are, of course, numerous exceptions. :laugh:

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Cabrales,as Kikujiro says you are assuming that other diners approach restaurants with the same degree of interest and involvement as you,and probably most of us on this site.

But it just ain't so. Last week we sat next to a group of four diners in The Trinity restaurant in Orford. They ordered three courses,three bottles of wine, coffee etc. At no point did any comment about the food or the drink or any aspect of the restaurant pass their lips. They were interested in talking about other things.

To many people going to a restaurant is not a particularly interesting or special event and it is those people who would be surprised and angry if suddenly told at the end that this or that cost much more than they were expecting to pay.

That is why it is as much in the restaurant's interest as the diner's to post all prices,including VAT,clearly,so that no-one can come back and accuse the restaurant of somehow misleading them. I cannot fathom a reason why a restaurant would NOT want to do this.

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I get the impression that a lot of "normal" people are intimidated by high-end dining because they do think of it as the sort of exclusive club that Cabrales seems to want it to be. The more "demystifying" of it that occurs, the more likely people are to take interest in it. Which is a good thing, IMHO, as it would mean a general upward trend in standards.

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sort of exclusive club that Cabrales seems to want it to be

StephenT -- Wanting restaurants to be exclusive is contrary to what I would hope for restaurants. However, I would want diners to be more proactive, instead of blaming restaurants for not telling them things that a simple inquiry on their part would have quelled. :hmmm:

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Hmm - all very intriguing. A long while back - months - I plugged the lunch deal at Foliage in my column, not for a moment thinking it didn't include vat. A reader wrote to me, clearly pissed off, that their meal had cost x more than they thought it would. I agreed and offered to reimburse the difference as shoddy journalism had misled them (is this a first for British journalism? A restaurant critic paying for his readers?) They took the cash as a gesture and I then wrote to David Nicholls executive chef at the Mandarin Oriental pointing out the problem.

He agreed it was a problem and offered in turn either to reimburse me or give me lunch. Well hey, I'm only human and it is foliage (Took the managing editor there to renegotiate my contract; a truly fabulous lunch.) But Nicholls did say he would sort the situation and make the exclusive vat and service thing more obvious.

As I said at the time it still seems a pretty damn fine deal with them included. What's more troubling is that clearly they haven't done anything about it.

Jay

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if you mean on the web you can go to www.observer.co.uk and search within the site - but I have to say our archive is pretty cruddy. It may be better to do a google search under my name and a keyword like restaurant, freeloader or, if you're LMH, appalling devil's spawn journalist hack monster. You should find what yr looking for

j

Jay

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Kikujiro, I absolutely agree that the Guardian/Observer has one of the best newspaper websites in the world. However, I also think that the archive search is pretty cruddy (to use Jay's description). It seems to be a step or so above a simple keyword search, which really isn't sophisticated enough for a) the target user group and b) the variety of information being searched.

I could get into a long blatering post about the benefits of combining Boolean rule base variations and Baysian statistics for automatic classification, but that would make everyone fall asleep, my brain implode, and Gavin wonder why I was talking about things he left behind a few decades ago. :wacko:

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  • 4 weeks later...

Further to JD's post about ECapital (and similar experiences we've probably all had): does anybody think it should be a requirement for restaurant menus to be available in English to the same level of detail that they are in other languages? Or would that be somehow wrong?

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The business of Chinese restaurants in the West End failing to make their specials menu available to non-Chinese punters is one of the many reasons why I try to avoid restaurants in Chinatown.

I find the assumption that lies behind this practice(that Western diners will not want to eat these dishes) to be patronising and outdated. I understand that the majority of customers probably want won tun soup and sweet and sour pork, and one can only assume that the restaurants are happy with this and have no interest in developing Western tastes in Chinese food because they're coining it in already.

In don't know whether they can be required to translate their menus but if customers nag enough and the food press moans enough.......

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Yes this practice is infuriating. I'm ashamed to admit that I was once dragged to Wong Kei's (by friends with less money than sense) and tried to rescue the situation by ordering randomly from the Chinese part of the menu at the back. The waitress refused to accept my order (of course, I may have been ordering the equivalent of chips and ice cream).

W.

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