On average, UK householders are spending more and more on dining out. Nowhere is this more evident than in London, where the options for food and dining experiences are vast and tempting. But when rent is due and your savings account cries neglect, food is also one of the easiest expenses to trim from your budget.
So the question is: how can you eat well on a budget in London? We’ve crunched some numbers so you can crunch some dinners. Below we present our top London budget tips for foodies:
Plan Your Meals In and Out
We’ve all done it; an after-work pint leads to after-work cocktails, and someone in the group (usually the most well paid and oblivious to your need to save for a house) suggests getting a curry, and before you know it you’re sharing a naan bread and splitting the bill, twenty pounds deeper than you ever intended to be.
Saying no to spontaneous social dining can be hard, but there are a few ways you can make it easier on yourself. On Sunday, make sure there’s some quick-to-reheat food ready in the fridge for the week. Knowing you’ll be going home to an already-made meal you don’t have to cook makes the convenience of waiting around with your mates for a pizza far less appetizing.
If you’re a foodie, it also helps to plan out which restaurants you’d really like to try next. Knowing you’ll be eating a lavish Lebanese feast on Thursday night makes you less likely to spend for no reason on food you didn’t plan for on that quick Tuesday catch up.
Know a restaurant you just love, but which serves food at prices you just can’t buy? Check if they are serving at any markets, fairs, or popup venues.
One of the best things about eating on a budget in London is how the competitive food and restaurant culture in the city continuously presents new options. Occasionally top-name chefs will appear on street stalls or marketplaces and cook your heart’s desire for a healthier price. Keep an eye on the restaurant’s social media and follow chefs you like on twitter to find out where they might be cooking next.
Avoid Pre-Packaged Meals
It seems as though every London supermarket has piled in on the ready-meal game. We know, we know, you’re hungry now and the food hall lasagne ready meal doesn’t look that bad. But you’re paying a premium for something which, let’s be honest, as soon as you’ve consumed it you’re going to instantly regret (no one at the office break table talks about that ‘great ready meal’ they had last night).
If you find yourself buying pre-packaged food a lot, try batch cooking at home and dividing a meal into portions for the week. Yes, it’s fast to get that yogurt with the granola in the little packet hanging off the side, but if you’re eating on a budget in London, that extra pound fifty you’re paying for the privilege (and the packaging!) is far better spent elsewhere.
Less is More
Aching to try a new place or cuisine but can’t quite make the numbers work out? Consider a more low-key approach to the meal. Maybe instead of a full dinner, you can try a Saturday lunch. Or how about this fun idea: agree as a group to try several restaurants on a street in one evening, but order only appetizers and desserts to share. You’ll be amazed at how much you can sample the delights of eating on a budget in London this way.
Often portion sizes are very generous, and restaurants will also allow you to split the main dish between two. Think about it: are you really so hungry you both need a full roast with all the trimmings? Try sharing: you’ll have downsized your bill by a significant amount.
Don’t Believe the Hype
Eating on a budget in London is all about navigating consumer choice: there’s so much on offer and it will all seem delicious; especially when your funds are low so you can’t have it all.
With so many food pictures appearing on social media feeding your newsfeeds but not your belly, and clever food marketing catching you at your weak points (we’ve all stared at those posters on the Tube!), it can be easy to have FOMO: Fear Of Missing Out. With such an information overload, it’s easy to be seduced into overspending. That fancy-sounding avocado toast? It’s just avocado dusted with sumac and is not worth fifteen pounds. That high-end burger with brioche and black sesame? You can make the same item at home at half the cost and double the freshness. So, number one from our list of food budget tips in London? Be discerning: you have the spending power.