Friday, 17 February 2012

What influences you to choose something from a menu?

I was having dinner the other day and found it very hard to decide what to order. It seems that choosing what to eat from a menu is something that takes a lot of consideration. Things that tick along in the back of your mind maybe without you even realising. But what is the deciding factor, the one thing above all others that will make you choose one thing over another?

What if when you're out you decide this is the time you will try something new; salsify, heart or salted chocolate for example. It's a strategy rife with risk. It can go one of two ways; revelation or regret. The first time I went out for a really nice meal I had a selection of vegetables, each vegetable prepared in a different way. At the time I was a carrots, parsnips and peas only girl. That particular dish and that meal changed my life; a world of vegetables was opened up to me.
However, what if you try something new and it's awful? Trying something for the first time and it being badly prepared or if you personally don't like it can really ruin an ingredient for life. Galangal is the one thing I cannot bear because I had far too much at once. I can't even look at it now.

If you're looking at a classic menu, do you choose something familiar or foreign? Sausage and Mash, Lasagne or Fish and Chips are familiar to most but would you choose it because you recognise it or because you feel like it won't let you down? If it does let you down, you might feel so deflated and disappointed but if it's the best one you've ever had the benchmark has been set.

Seasonality and locality can be an important influence when deciding what to eat. Local sausages or asparagus when it's in season can be magnificent and what a great chance to try it. Equally, choosing something you would never buy or prepare at home is a great excuse. If you've never fancied battling with a celeriac or preparing a beef wellington, here's your chance.

Perhaps it just come down to price. Is it ridiculous to spend £12.50 on a risotto you know you could make just as well yourself? Is it a good thing to be able to try something expensive that you'd never normally buy for yourself; caviar or foie gras maybe. I think it is always worth giving some consideration to price; if the ingredients themselves aren't expensive but the dish is pricey, maybe the execution of it is fantastic.

What is the most important thing to you when choosing what to spend your money on?


  1. I think that starting a restaurant blog has made me more adventurous - I'm more inclined to try new things to see what they're like and maybe become a little bit more knowledgeable about food generally. It also means that I attempt not to order the same as anyone else I'm with, which is another way of making sure that I don't always go for what's familiar.
    Still, if I don't know a restaurant and am not sure of its quality, it can be awkward deciding whether to have something more elaborate which could be wonderful or (if the chef doesn't know what s/he is doing) a disaster, or just to stick with the safe options.

    (edited for typos!)

  2. You are right. What's the point of having something you can make better at home? When I am in England I try to go anywhere where there is no Italian food. Also I like to try something new and different. Something which is difficult to do yourself.
    Also I find, unless you pay a fortune, most of the ingredients are of a cheap quality in restaurants as all they need is to make money.

  3. Certain dishes just cry out to me, crispy belly pork, for example, or anything with crayfish. If there's nothing 'shouty' on the menu though, it can be tough. An expensive steak that might e bland? Or a humble steak and kidney pie that might taste fantastic! I agree - it's tough.

  4. Aha! So many interesting questions. When I first came to France, that's when I had to change. French hubby told me what was wrong: I kept going for the weird, different stuff on the menu and not for the seasonal dishes. So simple but it made a huge difference. Now anytime the parents visit, I have to keep hold of my plate, as Mum's order comes and she eyes mine up and says, I prefer YOURS.

  5. Wonderful post! I usually order things that I know I am not going to make, or will make but only if I've tried it before. For example, I do not make a lot of fried meals because I hate the smell that stays in my apartment so if I see something fried and yummy I've been wanting to eat, I'll order it. Another example is when I tried grits for the first time, I knew there was a special way to make them but I didn't know how it was supposed to taste so that set the mark. Definitely, a lot of stuff goes on when ordering from a menu!

  6. I am quite adventurous when it comes to food, so I like to try new ones and see how it goes.

  7. Very good question... I tend to go for things that I don't cook at home, seasonal, local and all that. It also depends on the venue/occasion. I have a favourite 'street food' type Chinese cafe/restaurant in Oxford I lunch at occasionally (usually alone). I always order the same thing although there are hundreds of choices. It never disappoints. A special occasion in a good gastro pub? Then a good steak or fish or slow cooked lamb/game. For a really special occasion, a tasting menu with loads of courses I'll have had for the first time most probably. I think you're right, the big decision is between 'safety' and 'adventure' and once decided... you get what you get!

  8. This is a great question! I have moved into a period where I'm not eating out as much. I have found that adds weight to my dining choices when I am out for dinner. My standards are higher and I really want to be sure to have a fantastic meal. I usually want something with some novelty to it, whether that be novel to my more normal diet or a unique preparation.

    Certainly when trying a specialty restaurant or when traveling I go for what is indigineous to the area, local and seasonal as you suggest. I took a great weekend trip to Chicago where I researched restaurants that featured local sourcing. I eneded up at three completely different genre restaurants enjoying their sourcing and spin on the local offereings. Was a great time!

  9. Great question.Tough to answer though! I think it comes down to a bit of what I fancy, a bit of what sounds good and then a bit of being nosy and seeing what other people are having!

    I think seasonal and local is always good, and a good indication of level of cooking.

  10. I think a lot of what drives my decision is also whether or not I can make it myself cheaper and with ease at home. We are often on a fairly stingent budget and on valentines day, for example, my partner and I chose from a standard table d'hote menu. He was torn between the duck and the pressed pork belly. Both were going to cost the same but we are much more likely to afford and obtain good quality pork belly with ease than a decent duck (especially with the end of the season).
    I know its not a very "foodie" thing and I'm hoping that confessing it might make me change it a bit more - but I often have the same meal at frequently visited establishments. So if I have been there once and had a really good pasta I will order that pasta over and over each time I go back which is strange when, generally speaking, I will often opt for the more "adventurous" menu options when dining somewhere special.

  11. Good question. On a rare occasions we do go out to eat, I like to order fish, especially in coastal areas where they know how to cook it. Second choice is local, which is getting harder to find this days. Best combinations for me: local fish or seafood.

  12. Hiya, I've given you The Versatile Blogger Award and linked you from my blog x

  13. Great post! So many interesting questions that everyone answers differently.

    For me well I don’t eat out here often since I think it’s overpriced and not really satisfying. I however love to eat out when I’m in the States. The prices there are more reasonable and pretty good for the food you get. So the price / quality / quantity has to be in balance.


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