Menu Madness

Me and my uni ones were going for brunch on Friday (standard millennial girl behaviour). We (FINALLY, after a lot of veto’s) decided to go on the Wednesday, and within minutes we were all checking the menu and pre planning what we might get.

Once we got there, it still took us about 15 minutes to decide what we wanted. So imagine how long it’d take if we’d never seen the menus before, we’d still be sitting there now like.

And we’re sure as hell not the only ones. Everyone does it. Find out where you’re going, go online and download the menu. It’s the norm really.

I used to judge people who knew what they were going to order for lunch like 3 days before they went. I thought, “how do you know what you want? Why not just see what you feel like at the time?” That’s what I did. I just rocked up and chose what I fancied. So next time an interviewer asks me about taking risks, you can bet what example I’m gonna whack out.

I don’t know when exactly I moved to the dark side and started downloading PDFs left, right and centre. But to be fair, I really struggle with decisions so the whole hassle of actually CHOOSING one thing over the other 48 on the menu is a bit of a 20 minute stress-infused ordeal.

Plus, I’d be so distracted at trying to choose that I neglect the company I’m with and don’t speak to them. So you can imagine why pre-deciding and avoiding a 20-minute silence isn’t a bad idea for someone like me. I’m doing my brain, my amigos AND the poor waiter all a favour.

It’s sort of like a “fail to prepare, prepare to fail” kinda scenario.
We’ve all had those times where the waiter keeps coming over and you’re still not ready to order so you panic and choose the first thing you see or lapse into “chicken goujons and chips”. So maybe if you had’ve seen the menu before, you’d have gone for something a lil more exciting and worth the £18.

Me when the waiter comes over

Now, I don’t choose EXACTLY what I want, unless there’s only one thing I actually like on the menu. I normally narrow it down to like 2 things I might go and then “see how I feel” when I get there. Not that it’s exactly hard to narrow it down when you’re THIS fussy.

Even if I’m not even planning to go to a certain place anytime soon, I still have a wee jook and see what they do; just in case I ever do take a notion. I’m THAT sad, I know. But I’m not the only one, I refuse to believe it so I’m gonna generalise and say this is a SWEEPING TREND.

So why do we (yes, WE) bother? What’s the point of looking at a menu of somewhere we’re not even going to?

1. To see the food
Duh. “Italian” – okay does that mean pizza? Lasagne? Fancy twirly pasta? What if I don’t want any of them? Is there something like normal? What about vegans/vegetarians and other fussy creatures?

2. To see the names
I want to see how posh this place is. Is it “salmon and cream cheese bagel” or “free range, organic, hand-caught Scottish salmon, with organic, hand-churned cream cheese on home-made, circular dough with a hole in the middle, topped with honey-rolled sesame seeds“? I need to see if the place is as unfancy as me.

3. The price
Ah yes, probably the main reason for us students. Once I see “olives” as a starter for £5 you can bet your donkey I’m going to swiftly exit, delete and rule out THAT establishment.

4. For a wee nosey
Of course. Bitta dinner inspo, pass the time when you’re in the dentist waiting room, new place opened round the corner so you HAVE to suss it out.

Me when a new café opens

It’s not just that more people are jooking at more menus now. it’s that more menus are available now. Not having a menu online could be what makes someone choose another business over yours. Think about it. Why I would choose to go to a place when I don’t know what it serves or how much it costs; when I can easily go to another place where I can find it all out and avoid disappointment when I sit down and read the menu?

If I’m deciding between 2 places for dinner, the one with a menu I can read is gonna be the pick, hands down. I might like the food, drinks and price at the other place, but how do I know that if I can’t see what any of that is?

That’s the downside of businesses not having websites and opting for a wee Facebook page instead. There’s almost never a menu on them. Goddamnit. Photos, memes and competitions, great. But that doesn’t help me decide where to go for brunch now does it?

For someone like me who finds decisions and committment a stressful and MELTING task, having the ability to check, decide and then RELAX when I get to the food place is a beautiful gift.

So shoutout to the businesses who do have their menus readily available for a wee nosey, go rabh maith agat. And to the businesses who don’t, you just lost yourself a very valuable customer who orders tap water.

“Would You Like Insulin with That?”

We’ve all heard those weekly BBC reports about the obesity epidemic, and what steps we as consumers can take to eat a balanced diet and be healthy. We’re told to read labels, use portion control and make swaps for ‘lighter’, ‘low salt’ or ‘low sugar’ options. It’s easy for us to do this because companies ~have to~ display nutritional information on the packaging and use things like the ‘traffic light’ system. They also tell you in teeny tiny writing how big a portion is or how many servings there are of the product,  even though it’s normally something ridiculous like 7 smarties.

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Food manufacturers give consumers the information to ’empower’ us, and we’re told how to use it to make informed decisions about food. Seems fair – they take some steps and so do we. But, what about eating establishments? Why don’t they have to disclose the nutritional content of their food? But how are we meant to make healthy and informed choices if there’s no information to, ya know, inform us?  Like yeah, you know what you ordered, but what are you actually eating? A BLT you get in a café isn’t that different to a shop bought one, except the bread’s less stale; and a shop bought lasagne’s pretty similar to one you buy in a pub, they’re both equally nasty. So why should one have to publish the nutritional content and not the other?

Yeah, companies like McDonald’s, Tim Horton’s and Nando’s have nutritional information about their products available online, but 1) people don’t know they’re there and 2) you have to go looking for them. If I’m in Tesco picking up a meal deal (or Boots if I’m feeling fancy), I don’t have to go online and compare my options in advance, I can quickly pick up two sandwiches, read the labels and compare the wee traffic lights. And I can do it in about 20 seconds. I can make an informed decision about what I eat in 20 seconds. Go me. So why, if I’m sitting in a restaurant, should I have to go online and research whether or not the nutritional information’s available, and if it is, then sit and check it while the waiter’s standing there with their pen and paper and my friends have already ordered and are glaring at me? Sorry, guys.

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Reading the McDonald’s nutritional info

If the information’s available online, then companies know consumers can read it and see how (un)healthy their food is, so why not just put it on the menu? It’s probably just a wee tick-box exercise so they can say, “We want to help customers make healthy choices so are uber transparent about our products’ nutritional content”. Basically, they want to have the information available, but don’t really want people to read it. I mean, they probably don’t want to shout out about the fact their burgers have 850 calories and 120% of your sat fat allowance for the day. Hmm, better make mine a diet coke, then.

But I suppose, they don’t want to tell us the truth any more than we want to hear it. Ignorance is bliss. It’s easier to claim we don’t realise how unhealthy food is and keep the blame on food companies, not ourselves – the old “it’s not my fault if I didn’t know”. Would you feel guilty about eating a pizza? Probably not. Would you feel guilty about eating a 1300 calorie pizza? Probably. If you don’t know how unhealthy something is, then you don’t have to feel bad for eating it or tell everyone that you’ll go to the gym tomorrow to “make up for it” (even though not even you believe that lie). You can eat what you want, not what you ‘should’ and play that lil game where you pretend it “probably wasn’t that bad”, I mean, potatoes are a vegetable so chips should be healthy enough, right? Right?

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People always complain that they eat healthily but can’t lose weight. But, maybe the problem isn’t what they’re eating, it’s where they’re eating. If you eat spaghetti bolognese at home, you know what’s in it so know it’s not that unhealthy. So if you order it when eating out, you might think the same. But, chances are they’re not using wholewheat pasta and lean mince like your ma does. They most likely add things which end up driving up the calories, fat and salt content. So, even if you think you’re “being good” and going for a healthier option, you mightn’t be. See, when we make things ourselves, we can tweak it to be healthier and choose what and how much we eat. But when we eat out, we can’t. We can’t ask for a ‘skinny’ curry or ask for our steak to be ‘grilled, not fried’. They’d definitely spit on it, like.

Companies might think that displaying nutritional information might put consumers off and affect business. But the thing is, people know burgers, chips and pizzas aren’t healthy. They know fast food products are full of fat and salt. And they still choose to eat it. It’s not exactly groundbreaking information that a salad has less calories than a bacon cheeseburger like. Look at Wetherspoons, a lot of their food items are over 800 calories, and they have 0 issue displaying this on their menu. They don’t deny that it’s not the healthiest because, people don’t go to Spoons for ‘low cal’ or “syn free” food. They go for jugs, and cheap, massive portions of decent food. I mean, it’s like £6 for a burger and chips, what do you expect?

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Finding out KFC isn’t healthy??

The thing is, nutritional information is displayed on store-bought products. We can see how unhealthy it is, and how small a real portion is, and what do we do? We ignore it. But the key difference is, we choose to ignore it. Consumers are given the information, and what we do with it is up to us. It’s our decision, and rightfully so. We have the option to read it if we want – and that’s a big “if”.  You might fancy a Mars bar (God knows why like, they’re horrible), but after seeing how much sugar’s in it, you might think twice and put it back on the shelf (where it belongs). Or, you might decide that it’s worth the pancreatic damage and buy it anyway. At the end of the day, we can’t control what goes in the food, but we can control whether or not we eat it.  So we should have the same option when eating out.