a VirtualTourist member from New York State
I will be in England next May and have been researching into restaurants/eateries around the Midlands and Southeast Britain. I have heard the UK was an expensive place to visit but nonetheless, I was astonished at how expensive the price of food is! Prices are almost double what it is here in the states (and I eat the more expensive organic foods here). I know I will enjoy the local eateries and tea-shops but where can I also find run-of-the-mill delicatessens or places like Wegmans for simpler/cheaper meals while I am on the go?
Eating out in the UK can be expensive, but doesn't have to be. If you eat in a pub instead of a restaurant, you can save some money. Many smaller places offer good food, for example ethnic restaurants like Thai, Indian or Chinese. Fish and chip can be had for about £ 10. Or simply go to a supermarket and get a sandwich and a salad. I've often done this and have eaten in a park if the weather was nice. My rule of thumb is: If I see a white tablecloth and lots of glasses on the tables in a restaurant, it's usually too expensive for me.
Why not prepare your own lunch before setting out. Buy bread and all the necessary condiments from the nearest supermarket, wrap it up in appropriate paper, cloth napkin and take it along. You save a *lot* of money that way. Else, as suggested above, buy your favourite sandwich.
Yes, food is expensive here...both eating out and buying your own. That's how it is.
Cheap eating-out isn't easy and if you want to eat or buy organic you'll pay a premium for it, sometimes a pretty hefty premium.
The cheapest places to find organic foods are supermarkets, although their ranges are limited. Everything is clearly marked (EU law..that's why there's such a scandal about the horsemeat thing at the moment, because we expect beef products to include beef, not horse!). You should certainly be able to find organic basics in most big supermarkets. The main players (which ones are accessible will depend upon where you are) are Tesco, Asda, Waitrose (more expensive), Morrison's, Sainsbury's, the Co-op.
Depending on where you are based, you may find an organic food shop with a wider range of produce and, if you have access to transport, you may be able to access farm shops which sell organic foods. Sometimes local markets have an organic food provider as well as the normal non-organic, but that depends on customer demand in the area.
For organic foods when eating out you are really looking at specific independent organic cafes & restaurants. Without knowing where you'll be based it's difficult to advise and, in many places, you won't find anything.
For run-of-the-mill non-organic cheaper eating look for chains such as Greggs, sandwiches in supermarkets, local cafes etc. Pret a Manger have good sandwiches, as do Marks & Spencer, but they re both pricey.
For meals, apart from the ubiquitous fish & chip shops, pizza and burger chains, pubs are usually (though not always) good value. The Wetherspoon's chain of pubs, in particular, has very decent food at very decent prices..and good beer...and has many pubs in many places:
The many ethnic restaurants in the UK also offer good food at reasonable prices, although some are very upmarket. Almost every village has either an Indian or a Chinese take-away somewhere nearby (often both) and every larger settlement will have restaurants as well. You can also expect to find restaurants/takeaways offering other types of cuisine (Thai, Italian, Mexican, Gurkha....): they are very common indeed. In fact, they are far more common than restaurants which offer 'English' food (whatever that may be).
So...you do have plenty of choice but I'm afraid it's not cheap even if you are prepared to buy and cook all your own food. I think you may have to adjust your budget accordingly.
A last point: you do get what you pay for. If food in the UK is cheap, there's a reason for it being cheap....and it's not always a good reason.
Yes! I discovered it the bitter way.
The cooking medium in *some* fish & chip stores, leave much to be desired.
Also, supermarkets seem to price down (discount) their edible items as the last
date of the product approaches.
Yes, all supermarkets mark down goods as they reach their expiry date. There are two types of expiry date, by the way:
'Best before' which means it's safe to eat after that date though may not taste as good (that depends entirely on what it is...cheese is cheese, after all!).
'Use by' which means you shouldn't eat it after that date (eat at your own risk, in other words).
Cheap foods, whilst not containing anything actively harmful, will of course contain poorer quality ingredients and, often, more additives of various types. But that caveat also applies to processed foods in the US or anywhere else, I suspect.
Another thing to look out for is the difference in wording between 'home-made' (that is, made from scratch on the premises) and 'home-cooked' (which can mean ready-prepared and simply heated up on the premises).
There is a chain bakery called Greggs that you can find in most high streets that sell sandwiches, sausage rolls, pies etc for a little over a £. Most of them have stools you can sit on. There are all the regular fast food joints but again not so cheap. Fish and chip shops are OK too if you have a takeaway in a paper bag, but perhaps the best bargains are the Chinese Restaurants that have all-you-can-eat-buffets for as little as £4. In the evening it usually is £2 more.
You can find some deals for restaurants on this website, deals for your dates will be available later in the year.
I usually grab breakfast from the supermarket or bakery, you can get fruit, yogurt and pastries for much less than a full breakfast at a restaurant. For lunch I sometimes grab a baguette and meat or something similar, most of the supermarkets also have a selection of prepared sandwiches as well as places like Eat or Pret a Manger.
For dinner there are a lot of places I eat at in London that are also located outside of it like Strada or Pizza Express plus there are a lot of Indian, middle eastern and Chinese places that you can get a decent meal for under 10£. Honestly, I don't spend more on food in the UK than I do back home in Chicago
Many Indian and Chinese restaurants do cheap business man's lunch menus. You can eat cheaply in pubs. Chains like Wetherspoons offer cheap pub food, for example.
If I eat out in the States, my bill is usually about $50 for a family of four. I see most restaurants in the UK (converted to American dollars) run about $80 for a family of four. It adds up when considering 9 days of vacation, 3 meals a day and we are light eaters so I don't want to spend all that money on what I will only eat half of, and forget doggie-bagging it because we will be on the move. Hmmm...
You all have given me great information and advice! Thanks! :-)
You can forget doggy-bagging it anyway, because portion sizes in the UK are simply not the same as in the US. They are much smaller (in my experience of US portion sizes). And we don't usually 'do' doggy-bags: you can expect surprise if you ask for what's left to be bagged-up.
But 50USD is around £32. Yes, you will have difficulty feeding four people on that amount, I'm afraid, unless you have just one (cheapish) main course each. It won't be impossible but it won't offer you much choice and...to be frank..what choice you have will be more of the burger & chips (fries) variety than of 'proper' food.
But Wetherspoon's pubs are definitely an option worth exploring: they'll give you a better choice for a smaller amount of money. Have a look at the menus on their website (though they don't have the prices, I'm afraid).
And keep your eyes open for special offers in pubs (sometimes on blackboards outside the entrance, sometimes in windows): often you can e.g. get two meals for the price of one between set times.
Portion sizes are smaller in Europe than they are in the US, it's very rare that I have a lot left over on my plate when traveling in Europe as compared to the US where I always seem to bring food home.
If you don't eat three meals a day out when at home and are light eaters, there's no need to do it when traveling either. When I traveled with my young niece and nephew we had a small fridge in our room and we ate breakfast in the room, lunch was from the supermarket and dinner we sat down and ate. I like to eat but three sit down meals a day would kill me and would eat into my sightseeing time. When we visited the Tower of London and Warwick Castle, we packed a light lunch to avoid having to buy overpriced not very good food from the venue.
One more thing if you are not an experienced European traveler, you can ask for and get tap water at restaurants (they don't always put it on the table like they do in the US), soda is dreadfully expensive and the idea of free refills is almost non existent. If I have to have a soda, I'll get it at the supermarket but I rarely get it at a restaurant. Another chain you might have a look at is Nando's, my niece and nephew loved it, they do have free refills on soda and you can get a good meal for under £10
Weatherspoons offer good value and are in most towns and cities across the UK. Even in London Weatherspoons prices are the same as in the provinces (as answered above). Another option for reasonable meals are British Home Stores (BHS) - this is a department store but they always have a resaurant and their meals are quite good value. And of course pub food - that does vary of course from pub to pub but many are in chains these days and have fairly standard prices. I actually found food prices actually cheaper in England than California when I visited the USA in 2010.
Tip: For lunch many supermarkets and other shops do a "meal deal" which is a: sandwich (or other main) a drink and a snack (fruit or crisps or cake) all for a set price of around £3. The best offers (IMO) are at Boots the Chemist - yes they sell sandwiches and a lot of them, sepecially in stations, and Sainsbury's. Tesco also have similar offers.
Be aware that some of the cheaper food places are often quite poor quality, so if you're used to good food you may not be impressed.
Pubs usually offer good food at reasonable prices. Note that "Gastro-Pubs" are usuallly more expensive neo-restaurant type places.
Why is VT doing weird type spacing now?
Thanks! This is extremely helpful info and much appreciated! :-)