Ten things you should never order in a restaurant

The restaurant menu items with a surprising markup - and how to get better value for money

Off the menu: what not to order in a restaurant

Restaurants aren't just in the business of making great food: they're also in the business of making money. It means that lurking on a typical menu are all sorts of dishes designed to make as much profit for the restaurant as they can get away with - at your expense. Restaurant insiders have revealed ten things that make the best profits for restaurants - and therefore constitute the worst value for diners.

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The revelations were made in a Quora thread online, which several restaurant insiders flocked to comment on. Ten of the biggest rip offs emerged as:

1. Drinks
Everything from soft drinks to alcohol will have a serious mark up, while wine, cocktails and 'mocktails' tend to offer the best profits for the business. Your best bet is therefore to order tap water, and spend your money where the restaurant can really add value.

2. Children's items
In nicer restaurants you will have something made on the premises, with decent ingredients. In many cases, however, it takes very little skill to make a hot dog and chips, and yet if it's served with a carton of juice and a scoop of ice cream you can easily expect to pay upwards of £7 for the privilege.

3. Soup
One chef on the site said it was often made with leftovers from the previous day. Even when they add to this with fresh vegetables, he said it can cost 5% of the selling price.

4. Desserts
This is especially the case when desserts are bought in by the restaurant pre-made. Even if they are made in-house, this can be done in bulk and in advance, and for a fraction of the price you pay. The chefs noted that there are some exceptions - especially when a restaurant charges the same amount for every dessert - so when you order, it's worth considering value for money.

5. Pasta
When it's made in house, the labour involved makes this pricier. When it's bought ready-made, however, there's a massive profit to be made - especially when it is served with affordable ingredients.

6. Vegetarian dishes
The absence of pricey meat means you can make vegetarian dishes on a shoestring. A mushroom risotto, for example, might cost you a tiny fraction of a steak dish, and sell for two thirds of the price.

7. Breakfast
There are all sorts of items on a breakfast menu that are simple to make and cheap, and yet can be priced to make an impressive profit. Omelettes, poached eggs and toast are huge money-spinners.

8. Side dishes
Salads on the side can be particularly profitable for the restaurant. They also like the fact that they automatically make everyone pay more for their main course - without tying the table up for any longer.

For the same reason, a restaurant loves it when you pay for fries or onion rings on the side, which in many cases come straight out of a bag and into a deep fat fryer.

9. Posh versions of the standard offering
One expert, who owned a pizza restaurant, said by far the biggest profit was on his lobster pizza, because he could use $1 of lobster and charge $12 for the pizza - compared to $8 for a plain cheese and tomato one.

10. Tea and Coffee
The mark up on these is impressive, but there's a good reason for this. If you linger over coffee, you are tying a table up, and stopping a new group of people sitting down and ordering far more. It means the restaurant has to get a decent sum of cash for its coffees in order to make selling them worthwhile.

It may also mean they are in a hurry to get rid of you, so rather than being allowed to relax with your expensive coffee, they may try to encourage you to leave as soon as possible.

The basic rule of thumb

What is notable about many of the items on this list - and therefore worth bearing in mind when you're looking at a menu - is that these items will be some of the cheapest on offer. It goes to show that just because something is low in price, it doesn't necessary make it good value.

For restaurants, pricing a menu up is a delicate balance. There are some popular dishes they simply have to provide that are never going to make them an enormous profit - often because the ingredients are so expensive. It means they need to make more elsewhere. The art of getting the best value is therefore to spot the menu items that the restaurant feels it has to produce - safe in the knowledge they have not been able to make much of a profit from you.

But what do you think? Would you still order a pasta dish, a dessert and a bottle of wine? Let us know in the comments.