We are said first to eat with our eyes. And it is certainly true that a glimpse of great ingredients beautifully presented gets our taste buds working overtime in anticipatory joy.
But we also eat last with our eyes, for the size of the bill that is placed on the table at the end of a meal can ultimately decide whether we have really enjoyed the experience.
No matter that the steak was properly aged, tender, flavoursome and perfectly cooked. No matter that the red wine had depth and fruit and power. No matter that the chocolate torte was a thing of beauty. No matter that the post-prandial coffee and petit fours were a joy.
If we look at the bottom line of a bill and feel that we have paid more than we think is fair, it leaves a sour taste in our mouths that lingers far longer than the flavours of any food or drink that we have consumed.
Now please do not run away with the idea that I think restaurants make easy money. I know that hospitality is among the hardest industries in the world to generate profit.
Indeed, only recently I sat down for lunch with a restaurateur who told me that wages, rent, table linen, power costs, ingredients, taxes and the rest of the many overheads meant that each customer needed to spend £22.50 a head before the business made a profit.
This reality was also brilliantly illustrated by an exchange on a UK website review site between a woman who objected to paying £2 for a cup of hot water and lemon and an unapologetic bistro owner. Here was the woman's review:
The bistro owner replied in candid detail, pointing out that the cost of providing the drink, with everything taken into account, was between £1.60 and £2.40.
The message was simple: if you want a cheap hot drink, make it at home because we have to balance our books.
Only the most stupid or parsimonious customers would fail to realise this….though some internet sites unfortunately give such misguided loudmouths a platform on which to moan about perceived grievances.
There are, however, ways in which restaurants infuriate and frustrate ordinary customers, such as upselling unnecessarily.
Who has not been urged by a waiter to order side dishes that, once the main course arrives, are clearly unnecessary because the plates are already full?
Who has not been asked casually whether they would like bread and oil, with no mention that an extra charge would be levied?
I ran up a small fortune at a ghastly restaurant in Milan because staff, unrequested, placed bottle after bottle mineral water on the table and I, caught up in conversation, drank them without noticing.
Though, to be honest, the outrageously expensive meal itself left a nasty taste since it concluded with a quite ridiculous dessert of sea urchin and white chocolate - surely a combination that would appeal only to a seal in need of a sugar rush.
Oddly, though, and at risk of contradicting myself, the size of the bill is not the central issue.
I have paid large bills and thought them entirely reasonable because service, surroundings, food, and drink were superb and I knew how much such quality would cost.
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