Why you should order a restaurant's cheapest wine

Cheerful couple with menu in a restaurant making order

The wine list arrives - and you don't want to look either ignorant or like a cheapskate, so you order the second cheapest bottle on the list.

That way, you figure, you won't have to fork out a fortune, but won't be getting the restaurant's worst plonk.

It's a reasonable way of thinking, but according to experts it's all wrong. In fact, the second-cheapest wine is likely to be the worst value, says sommelier Mark Oldman.

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In his book, How to Drink Like a Billionaire, Oldman points out that restaurants are perfectly aware that the second- and third-cheapest bottles are generally the most popular.

As a result, he says, they'll use those slots to get rid of anything that they happen to have overstocked. And they'll also slap the biggest mark-up on these bottles, knowing they're likely to sell well regardless.

"You are better served to order the cheapest wine, which diners often neglect out of fear or embarrassment and thus is often a better value," he says.

"Just make sure you do so at a restaurant that cares about its wine, where even modestly priced wines are of admirable quality."

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And, as you've probably worked out already, buying by the bottle is almost always better value than buying by the glass.

"Wines by the glass are so marked up that it is practically industry scripture that the cost of the first glass covers what that restaurant paid wholesale for the bottle," says Oldman.

Restaurant wine generally costs around three times as much as the same bottle bought from a supermarket. And it's not the only part of the menu that involves a huge mark-up.

The tricks restaurants use to make you spend more

Kids' meals and desserts are easy to prepare and often bought in from outside, but are priced way higher than the restaurant's costs.

Vegetarian meals and pasta dishes, meanwhile, have far cheaper ingredients than other items on the menu, but generally cost around the same. And as for soup, it's usually made from leftovers from the day before.

All in all then, you'll generally get better value from a restaurant meal if you avoid the cheapest items on the list - and you'll be more likely to impress your date too...

Save money on shopping: ten great tricks
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Save money on shopping: ten great tricks

The more work you are prepared to put in, the more you stand to save. If you put your shopping list into mysupermarket.com, you can identify where each individual items is cheapest, and can technically buy every single item at its lowest possible price.

If that sounds a bit too much like hard work, a reasonable compromise is to shop at two supermarkets: once at the weekend and once mid-week. You can buy each item at the cheapest of the two shops, and save money without devoting hours to shopping.

There are several deal-sharing sites, including hotukdeals.com and latestdeals.co.uk. Most of them have a ‘freebies’ section, where you can get items completely free, and all have a section where they post fantastic deals that are well worth taking advantage of.

They will often point the way to coupons for brilliant discounts too.

The more time you have spare to spend looking for these, the more you can save.

It’s worth following your favourite brands on Facebook or Twitter. It’s also important to pick up in-house magazines, try your free local paper, and check any letters from supermarket loyalty schemes for your vouchers. If you have a Nectar card, visit the website before you shop, so you can upload the latest deals to your card.

While you’re in-store, keep your eyes peeled for promotions on packets, and on receipts. Often the deal-hunting websites will offer a short cut to many of these, but if you have the opportunity to do some legwork, you will find plenty of others.

Compare the price of your branded goods (after you use the coupon) with the cheapest supermarket alternative. If the discount makes it the cheapest option, then feel free to use it immediately.

However, if it doesn’t bring the price down below the own brand price, then don't throw it away. Hang onto the coupon, and check Mysuupermarket.com every few days to see if there’s an offer running on the brand at any time before the coupon expires. A deal plus a coupon is often the cheapest option.

Prices change all the time, but it pays to have a shopping list annotated with the usual price - or an old receipt - on hand when you are shopping. When something is on sale, compare it to the usual selling price from your list, to decide if it’s really as good value as it purports to be.
The frugal experts have decent storage areas at home, so if there’s a very special deal on washing powder or toilet paper, tins or toiletries, they can stock up for a few months at a knock-down price. It’s not generally worth doing on fresh produce, or packets with a short shelf life though, because throwing something away that’s out of date will undo all of your good work.
There can be some incredible bargains in the ‘yellow sticker’ sections of the supermarket. Most stores will have a spot for fruit and vegetable reductions, somewhere for chilled food price cuts, one for bakery products, and a final one for those with a longer shelf life that may be a bit battered, or separated from the outer packaging. Check them all for a possible discount.

The ’yellow sticker’ items will usually be reduced at least twice a day: once in the afternoon and once later in the evening. If you can wait to shop at around 7.30pm or 8pm you can get astonishing discounts.

If you want to time your shop exactly, then your best bet is to ask in store when they do their final reductions - don't be shy!

Get to know the rules around freezing ‘yellow sticker’ items, so you can buy when they are cheapest and use over the following weeks and months.

Don't assume something is perishable without checking. Everything from cheese to beansprouts is fine to freeze as long as you treat them correctly (beansprouts need blanching, chilling in ice water, and freezing immediately).

It’s never worth buying something just because it’s cheap: you also have to be able to factor it into your life. If you can't immediately think how you would use that over-ripe avocado, a pack of cut-price tongue or kippers, then don't buy them.

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