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How realistic are our expectations of eating out?

Jane Priest, Teaching Fellow

Faculty Blog

English: Veggie Burger

Veggie Burger (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

On several occasions recently I’ve eaten out with friends or family and the experience has been disappointing. Not for me, but for my company, and the problems haven’t related to the atmosphere or service, but to the food itself. The food is too salty or too bland, not hot enough or undercooked, dry, greasy, and so on.

What’s happening here? Are restaurants downgrading quality ingredients to cut costs? Or, as consumers do we have unrealistic expectations? One of the above complaints followed the purchase of a burger from a street food vendor. I would argue that if you are buying a relatively cheap fast food item, you should expect nothing other than ‘it is what it is’. Just in the same way that eating traditional pub grub isn’t the same as fine dining.

First we need to ask ourselves the question: what are we really paying for here? A burger, or the ability to satisfy hunger quickly on the go? In a buzzy restaurant I’m usually seeking a fun, sociable evening with friends or family, without having to worry about cooking and washing up.

I’m not advocating poor quality, but the product is more than just the food. As long as the quality of the food is consistent with the overall quality portrayed by the establishment (including service, surroundings, price, communications, even competitor offerings) I would argue customers shouldn’t be unpleasantly surprised. However, if a customer is dissatisfied with the food, it’s because the food didn’t meet their expectations. Then the food establishment needs to look at where the discrepancy lies.