We blew our dining budget but this is what we learned

During our last vacation, Patrick and I stayed home because our travel budget was in the red. Besides, we don’t enjoy missed flights. Or sunburns. Or saltwater on our faces. Oh wait, those are tears.

Anyway, on the first night of our ‘staycation,’ we pondered what to have for dinner. I suggested keeping it simple with a sleeve of Ritz crackers, cheddar cheese, some grapes on the verge of rotting, and a bottle of wine.

There was only one problem. We had no wine.

"Somebody's been drinking MY wine," she growled.

“Somebody’s been drinking MY wine,” I growled.

So we decided to go out. We went to a classy restaurant, but in keeping with my idea of simplicity and being true to our frugality vow, we decided to limit our order to appetizers and one drink.

What evolved from our commitment to a night of thrifty dining was an epiphany of ‘do’s and don’ts.’

Don’t settle for a high top table. As my legs dangled from a giant stool, I bellowed, “This chair is much too big!” After flailing my arms and creating a commotion, a server noticed my agitation and offered us a seat on a comfy couch near the gas fireplace. Ahhh, it was just right. And there was no extra charge.

Don’t order a menu item that includes the word ‘artisan.’ We selected an ‘artisan cheese tray’ which arrived on a rough-hewn board and included fashionable slices and chunks of cultured cheese, along with a few olives, some fig jam, and four lonely crackers. Price $19.

Don’t order extra crackers. We powered through the crackers in a cholesterol-laden heartbeat and had a mountain of cheese left, so we tapped our knives on our glasses until our server noticed and graciously agreed to bring us more. He impressed us when he plunked down eight crackers for our crunching pleasure. The bill impressed us more when we saw that our crispy carbs had a $3.50 price tag.

Don’t order a ‘sampler.’ The bruschetta sampler sounded intriguing but disappointed us when a miniature bread trio with three different toppings arrived whistling a $14 tune.

Don’t order a mixed drink. I ordered a margarita, which was mostly ice, served in a small highball glass. There may have been a splash of tequila in it, but without doing a chemical analysis, I can’t say for sure. One thing is certain; it wasn’t worth $12.

Do take wet wipes with you. Unbeknownst to us the artisan cheese tray composed entirely of finger foods had honey drizzled over everything, so from the first bite, we had impossibly sticky hands. At one point Patrick got too clingy, and we had to march into the non-coed bathroom looking like Siamese twins to dunk my head under water to extract his syrupy hand from my hair.

Do ignore the astonished looks from other diners. You can expect bewildered glances from other patrons when you return to your table with wet, stringy hair carrying a stockpile of paper towels. If you must, a well-placed glare should inhibit snickering.

Don’t say I told you so when Patrick looks at the $71.83 tab and says, “I guess we could have gone to Hannaford and bought a $9 bottle of wine, couldn’t we?”

Do tell everyone who asked you where you went on your vacation that you went to the Ritz to eat crackers. But it was tacky.

Have you ever spent more than you intended on fancy sounding food? Did you wish you’d gone to a restaurant containing the word ‘pub?’ Have you washed your hair in a restaurant bathroom?


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52 thoughts on “We blew our dining budget but this is what we learned

  1. I love this Molly! It’s so true — and annoying! I’d rather stay home and binge-watch something on Netflix, but I applaud your determination attempt a low-budget night out. At least you learned a thing or two!

  2. This reminded me of a dinner years ago with some friends. They like all the fancy stuff. I purposely didn’t order very much because it was all just too fancy for me. I am very picky! The bill came and it was a fortune. We all split it and I was too afraid to be that person well I told you so and I didnt even eat the stuff! UGH!!!!

  3. I loved this, Molly, and have had similar instances. We have learned to drink at home since when we order it drink, it not only costs a great deal but seems to give something akin to the munchies for pot smokers. We eat more! We did exactly the same thing one night and went for drinks and appetizers and walked out with a $84.00 bill. Lesson learned! (or not…who knows!)

  4. I, for one, would pay a premium for a cheese plate/board if it came with your picture!

    This also reminded me of a time I was in a restaurant in Nova Scotia and ordered a martini. Fifteen minutes later, out came a rather small, traditionally-styled martini glass that was barely half full. I asked the server what had happened to the rest of my drink. She took the glass back and returned ten minutes later, with the glass now full to the brim — with ice. For this they charged $14. This was back during a brief period when the Canadian dollar was stronger than the US dollar, so I think after the exchange rate kicked in that half-drink cost me something like $32.50.

    • Hahaha, John! You feel my pain with that overpriced, undersized drink experience. And you made me laugh with the comment about the cheese plate with my photo on it. Thanks for sharing what you learned in Nova Scotia.

  5. I’m always suspicious of “big plates, little food” restaurants. Like you and Patrick, we’ve gone out with the intention of just having appetizers and one drink, then that one drink kicks in and good intentions go out the window. Then the bill comes. If I’d realized the damage at the outset, it probably would have taken away my appetite! My worst/best restaurant story was when I ordered a Caesar salad with anchovies, and an anchovy bone (more like a stiff hair) got stuck in the back of my throat. I just happened to have a pair of tweezers in my purse, so went to the ladies’ room and extracted the hair (this was back in the day when I could actually SEE it). Bottom line: Lessons learned to never be without wine in the house, and hold the anchovies. P.S. Voted for you a couple of weeks ago–good luck!

    • Laughing at the image of you in the bathroom taking an anchovy bone out of your throat with a pair of tweezers, Roxanne. That is better than my sticky hair experience. And your advice to always have wine in the house, hold the anchovies is priceless! P.S. thanks for the vote!

  6. Having waited my share of tables in my life I’m never intimidated, even in the priciest places, so I’m rarely surprised (and I’m not shy about sending something back). I ask specifically what’s included in the ‘artisan’ whatever, how it’s prepared and served, and how much of it I can expect — and, these days, send them back to ask the chef if it contains even a speck of gluten. (Think ‘When Harry Met Sally’ – if I’m going to have to pay for it I order what I like)

    Patient, friendly waiters get nice tips.

    I have to say that I have NOT had the pleasure of washing honey out of my hair in a public bathroom. I can well imagine the shocked stares of the hoity-toity regulars, however — they clearly did not think that brushing one’s teeth after a meal was de rigueur (I mean, I DID do it in the bathroom – it’s not like I dipped into my water glass and brushed at the table!)

    Just voted. Good luck!
    (Madelyn Griffith-Haynie – ADDandSoMuchMORE dot com)
    ADD/EFD Coach Training Field founder; ADD Coaching co-founder
    “It takes a village to transform a world!”

  7. Lol, you should have prepared for your staycation and bought wine. 🙂 This brings to mind a story of hefty pricetag: When I was dating my husband, we went for dinner with a friend of mine and her then boyfriend now husband. He has a rather expensive palate while (now) hub and I are plain eaters and not much of drinkers. The man loved wine. He ordered a bottle, had one glass and then ordered another, one glass and then another because he liked tasting different wines. I basically ate chicken with a baked potato and hub the same, we each had one glass of wine. The bill comes it’s almost $700. The man says, “why don’t we just split it”. OMG I died a thousand deaths of embarrassment for my husband because he’s such a gentleman and far from cheap and didn’t want to seem so, so he split it. I still get reminded about that night 20 years later. LOLOL

  8. Most amusing! I haven’t washed my hair in a public washroom but I have washed clothes that have had something spilled on them. Those dryers take soooo long.

    • Hahaha! I’ve had that experience, too, Darlene. They should have a dispenser for ‘spot removal’ liquid beside the hand cleaner in public bathrooms. And a mini clothes dryer. Heck, with the price of our food I should have had a private laundry attendant at my disposal, don’t you think?

  9. This post is hilarious and easy to relate to, Shallow Reflections! We’ve all been there. I just hope that most ridiculously overpriced restaurants share a decent amount of their profits with their employees. (Also, I voted for your blog; hope the vote “took,” because I also voted several weeks ago.)

    • I suppose I shouldn’t complain about the prices for our dinner of delicacies, since it was cheaper than an all inclusive package to the Caribbean, right? Sorry, I have to take a moment to dry my eyes. I’m back. Anyway, thanks for stopping by and sharing a laugh with me Dave, and I do appreciate your vote!

  10. Oh yes, the rough hewn board. We visited a restaurant at Canary Wharf last year and ended up with what looked like a dab of baby food on aforesaid board and were charged quite a lot for the privilege. Never again!

  11. Have placed my vote – I have to say it was much easier than the vote I have to use in our general election next week!!! This post really made me laugh – been in this situation so many times and could really relate to it all. Our local curry house is the safest bet for us if we don’t want to take out a mortgage to eat. The menu is straight-forward, the waiters are really lovely and the cost is reasonable.Our last meal out with another couple came to £45 (no alcohol though) and there was more than enough to eat. Apologies for not being here much Molly, my reading/commenting is very hit and miss with current domestic demands. And my writing too!!!!! This was a pleasure to read – made me smile.

    • So lovely to see your engagement whenever it occurs, Gilly. Thank you so much for stopping by and for voting. Your local curry house sounds like my kind of place. Great to have a laugh with you today.

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