Throughout my stay here in London, I have noticed the incredible historic culture that they have here. Many aspects of their local culture is much different from what I am used to in the United States. Specifically, I have noticed major differences when it comes to eating and drinking.
I did talk a little bit about food in my last post. Mostly, I touched on the diversity of the food. The food is incredibly diverse, and you can get food from almost any culture in this one city. However, I wanted to dive a little bit deeper into London’s cuisine related culture. I have noticed that compared to Pittsburgh, there are a lot more family owned restaurants. If you walk down a street here, you will find mostly family owned restaurants with a few big chains speckled throughout. However, if you were to walk down a street in Pittsburgh it would be the opposite. It would be mostly franchised chains like Chipotle, McDonald’s, and Panera Bread. There are very few small restaurants throughout the Oakland area.
Once you actually get into a London restaurant, I have noticed that the way in which customers are served is much different here. In the United States, you generally have to wait for a hostess to seat you. In London however, you usually seat yourself at a numbered table and a waiter will then come by to take your order. The waitstaff also are much less concerned with customer service. Drink refills are few and far between. In addition to that, they are never quick to bring the check. Even after the waiter clears the empty dishes off of the table, they generally take twenty minutes or so before they will bring you your check. In the United States you are generally given your check as soon as you are finished eating. However, here you are expected to stay and conversate for longer after dinner is over. It is almost as if sitting down at a restaurant is considered more of a social event than it is in the United States.
I believe this difference arises from how waitresses are paid in the United States versus how they are paid here. In the United States, waitresses are reliant on tips. They want to collect as much money as they can from tips, so they will constantly tend to your needs and provide the best possible customer service. Although they cannot kick you out of the restaurant, they most likely bring the check right away because they want to serve as many tables as they can throughout the night in order to maximize the tips they make.
In Europe, the customer does not tip. The waitstaff is generally paid a decent wage by their employer. This means that the responsibility to provide income for the waitstaff is shifted to the restaurant instead of the customer.
In addition to this, restaurants in London either refuse to split the check or are very resistant to do so. Most of the time, my entire friend group has to pay on one check. This makes it very difficult as we either have to have exact change for our portion of the bill, or we have to transfer money using apps. These transfers may take days to get into the other person’s account, which can be a hindrance to young college students with a limited money supply.
Lastly, I have noticed that the food here is in general healthier, but less flavorful. It is rare for a restaurant to put any salt on your fries. Even McDonald’s does not salt their fries here. Also, the meat is generally pretty bland. With every meal I cook in the United States, I use a minimum of three spices. However, in the United Kingdom it seems like they do not add any kinds of spices or seasonings to their food.
I am thankful to be able to live here for six weeks and be exposed to a very different culture than what I am used to, even if the food is sometimes not as tasty as it is back home.