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Being modern: No-choice restaurants


When you are standing in the supermarket aisle confronted by 678 kinds of breakfast cereal, you could be forgiven for bemoaning the notion of free will. Stick a diner in front of a menu with just one or two things on it, however, and listen to them complain about rights being infringed.

The pop-up is dead, long live the no-choice restaurant. Menus? Who needs them? At Mayfair's Burger and Lobster you just tell them which part of their name you feel like eating. Leeds has Primo's Gourmet Hotdogs. Le Relais de Venise in London and Manchester serves only steak and chips. And if you can think of a cozy comfort dish (mac and cheese, risotto, chips, dumplings), chances are there's already a restaurant in New York dedicated to it.

Which is all very well for the restaurants (fewer unordered dishes to throw away), but seems to remove an element of fun from the experience. Some might argue that no-choice has always existed (thinly disguised as pizza or burger chains), while others might point to the long-held Continental preference for the prix fixe menu, where diners are offered a better deal for being told what they are going to eat.

Either way, no-choice is here and, with restaurateurs/people-who-just-want-to-cash-in opening new establishments on an apparently weekly basis, it seems that the trend is going to be around for the next few years at least.

But while the advantages are obvious for the restaurants, the pros for the punter are less easy to establish. At Burger and Lobster, at least a dining couple can order one of each dish and share. But what if you are with a group of friends? Will everyone want to eat the same thing on the same night? And if they do, what will there be to talk about?

Having said that, there is one element of the dining-out experience that is greatly enriched by the no-choice trend. Because when you eat in a no-choice restaurant, at least there'll be none of those but-I-only-had-a-salad problems when it comes to splitting the bill at the end of the night.