DUST off that woollen winter scarf, winter is upon us. Well, let’s not go crazy. For many of us, winter in the UK is solely focussed on wearing as many layers as possible, and shivering through to the return of summer, while others will be lucky enough to escape to mainland Europe in search of that mythical golden orb known as the sun. Whether you are sipping Sangria in Spain, parading through Paris or participating in other alliterative activities abroad, the bond between all travel experiences will be your basic need to eat. And cash, you’ll also need cash.
Eating while on holiday can be an enriching cultural experience in itself. However, in this world of mass tourism, finding local cuisine that is both genuine and reasonably priced becomes a tricky art to master. This is because for the hungry holidaymaker on a budget there is no greater adversary than the crafty maÃ®tre d’. Armed with a questionable specials menu and shielded by an all-too- convenient language barrier, this cunning creature is often spotted lurking in front of overpriced restaurants where they will lure the inexperienced traveller into uncomfortable situations. For the sake of avoiding such complications I have compiled a list, based on my own experiences, of five obstacles that you might encounter when it comes to eating out abroad.
1. Freedom isn’t Free
Assume nothing is free. When a waiter briskly delivers a basket of bread to your table without you ever having asked for it, don’t start complimenting the hospitality just yet – you will most likely find it tagged onto the end of your curiously high bill. Other not-so-complimentary items can include water, tap water, olive oil, parmesan cheese, ground pepper, napkins, peanuts and pretzels to name a few. Basically, if you didn’t ask, don’t touch.
2. Location, Location
Obviously you don’t need to be reminded that dining in any city centre is going to be more costly than eating in a less central location. What you might not know is that many restaurants in tourist-heavy areas will charge you more depending on where you sit within the establishment itself. Most conniving is the waiter who will usher you to a seat in the more expensive area without so much as a mention of the steep increase in price. Sitting outdoors will cost you. Sitting outdoors during a time when live music is being played will cost you even more.
3. The walk of shame
That awkward moment when there are no prices on the menu displayed outside which causes you to wander into the restaurant where you hope to find some answers. All too suddenly you find yourself swept up by an enthusiastic waiter, led to a table and seated before being presented with a delicious basket of bread (see point one). During the confusion you managed to get your hands on a menu where finally it is revealed the astonishingly high price per meal. At this point you have two options: either be bullied into breaking the budget or shed a bit of dignity by heading for the door.
4. Debt Perception
When searching for food in unfamiliar territory, we have always been told that a crowded restaurant is an indicator of both quality and reputation, but take another look around you. Do these people seem like locals? Can you see luggage wedged between their feet? Are they also struggling to pronounce anything on the menu? Sunburn? Bemused expressions? Portable bottle of hand sanitiser? If so, you have just been tricked, as have those around you, into thinking that this bustling, vibrant hotspot is the talk of the town. It’s not. Welcome to the party.
5. KEEP CALM and KEEP THE CHANGE
After receiving a bill that naturally surpasses your pre-meal calculations (due to some bread-based confusion no doubt) it comes time to pay the ultimate price. Your money is collected and now you are simply waiting for the change. Yep, just waiting. You’re waiting, and waiting. Fifteen minutes pass and you’re still waiting. You start thinking about your day, how it has been long and tiring and all you want to do is get back to your hostel for some much needed sleep and -WHERE IS THAT WAITER! Fed up with how long it is taking to receive your five euros change despite the fact that there are not but three occupied tables in the entire restaurant, you leave disgruntled and empty-handed. Case in point: if you want to see the shrapnel you will have to out-wait the waiter who might hope to profit from your impatience.