Restaurant-goers rebel against 'extortionate prices' and service charges

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The Independent Online

Britain's diners are becoming increasingly fed up with "rip off" restaurants with their ill-informed or arrogant service and mediocre cooking, a survey says.

Britain's diners are becoming increasingly fed up with "rip off" restaurants with their ill-informed or arrogant service and mediocre cooking, a survey says.

Research by the Consumers' Association, published today, shows a downward trend in the number of restaurant-goers across the country and falling profits among some major restaurants suggesting growing customer dissatisfaction.

Many people were found to be fed up with extortionate prices, the "optional" 12.5 per cent service charges, large wine mark-ups, noisy surroundings, and tables that are jammed together. A major irritation for customers was being made to pay a fortune for a meal and yet being told to leave the table by 9.30pm.

The economic downturn in the United Kingdom's £21bn restaurant industry has been swift. Restaurant chains such as Belgos, the Hartford Group who own the Damien Hirst-designed Pharmacy in West London, along with a handful of upscale south-west American themed restaurants, are all reporting falling profits compared with last year.

Jim Ainsworth, editor of The Good Food Guide 2001, published today, said: "Every restaurant has to make money, of course, but some take this to extremes in the most high-handed manner imaginable,. Those motivated by greed are now reaping the consequences, as even well-off customers are finding the high prices unacceptable. If this trend encourages some restaurants to moderate their prices and their add on charges, so much the better."

Of all the restablishments in this year's guide, not one had merited the coveted 10-out-of-10 mark for cooking.

"There is some brilliant cooking being done but the two top scorers of recent years, Marco Pierre White and Nico Ladenis have retired from active service, leaving a vacuum," Mr Ainsworth said.

The four restaurants that came out top of the 1,300 establishments in the guide, with a mark of 9 out of 10 for cooking, are: Gordon Ramsay, London; Le Manoir aux Quat' Saisons, Great Milton; Winteringham Fields, Winteringham, and the Altnaharrie Inn, Ullapool, Scotland.

The Good Food Guide is Britain's longest running independent restaurant guide. It has 134 new entries this year. As well as London, metropolitan areas such as Liverpool and Birmingham are coming to the fore with good quality new establishments.

The listed restaurants of the year for England are Lords of the Manor in Upper Slaughter, Gloucestershire, and the Yorke Arms in Ramsgill, North Yorkshire. The Restaurant Martin Wishart in Edinburgh won the restaurant of the year award in Scotland and Carlton House in Llanwrtyd Wells, Powys came top in Wales.

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