I’ve found that when discussing restaurants lately, a lot of people are talking about “pre-eating.” Some recommend it, others don’t.
What is Pre-Eating?
Pre-eating defines the activity of eating (and sometimes drinking) before going out to eat. The definition is looser than it would seem at first blush; there are people who are out (away from the home) already but who eat before they go “out” to eat. Pre-eating is distinguished from “concurrent eating,” which is essentially bringing your own food and drink to restaurants. I will cover the secret world of that practice in a future Money Tip.
Some people pre-eat in order to curb their appetite before eating (out). This pre-eating may be for two reasons: to quell the gnawing beast of hunger, or to save money (more on that below). By quelling hunger, the diner can focus on the social aspect of dining rather than the victuals, can really talk to the people with whom the diner is dining. For saving money, pre-eating allows the diner to avoid cocktails (overpriced) as well as appetizers (unnecessary, overpriced, and fattening – unless eaten as the meal proper) . Pre-eating also prevents the diner from ordering too much food once at the restaurant, or from ordering food that is too expensive, under the self-justification, “I’m really hungry.”
How pre-eating is practiced varies among pre-eaters. I know one pre-eater who has a stiff, gin-based Martini, a bowl of cereal with almonds, and half of a grapefruit before going to a restaurant. The Martini alone saves this pre-eater more than $12 (when tax and tip are figured in). I know another who has a bag of almonds and a beer. Some don’t drink alcohol at all but simply stuff themselves with fiber-rich foods. Others swear by high-protein fare, as protein costs more at restaurants, and this form of pre-eating may permit the diner to eschew high-cost, high-protein dishes.
Some pre-eaters in predominantly urban areas drink a cocktail while walking to the restaurant. I am not recommending this, as it may be illegal: check out your jurisdiction’s Open Container laws beforehand. I heard of one pre-eater who half-filled an Evian bottle with Grey Goose vodka. It was a deception, but only in part: both liquids hale from France. (I recommend passing on olives – they will be a dead giveaway.)
The economic claims of pre-eating enthusiasts have been challenged. Professor Dale Pott has argued that pre-eaters don’t save as much money as they claim. (Pott, 2007) Pott looked at the calculations of Professor Sarah Billings (Billings, 2006) and determined that Billings’ famous study failed to include the costs of the food pre-eaten or the liquids pre-drunk. Arnold Samseer, however, performed new calculations that included these costs and concluded that pre-eating still saved “significant” amounts of money. (Samseer, 2008)
There is also controversy over the morality of pre-eating. The claim is that it deprives restaurants of revenues. At least one pre-eater (Cardini, 2007) has argued that restaurant offerings, especially alcoholic beverages, are overpriced, anyway. Another pre-eater, Mark Samuels, argues that pre-eating is “a form of social activism”: if the practice were to become prevalent, it could lead restaurants to stop putting so much food on diners’ plates, which, Samuels argues, makes Americans obese and also contributes to global warming – in two ways. First, more food must be shipped, using fossil fuels. Second, obese Americans are more likely to drive than walk, given the physical discomfort. (Samuels, 2006) Samuels also argued that pre-drinkers are more likely to walk to restaurants precisely in order that they may drink along the way, which cuts down on fossil fuel use and also reduces the number of drunk drivers. That claim, however, does not take into account that many diners simply refuse to drink if they know they will be driving to and from a restaurant. (Ricard 2008)
There could also be other social costs for people who walk home drunk after dining out. One cost is that the pre-drinkers may be drunk, so they might fall and injure themselves, or a person they fall on, thereby clogging up hospital emergency rooms; and if the pre-drinker or victim is uninsured, treating the injuries could tax the United States’ already overburdened health care system. (Davis, 2006) Another cost is that the pre-drinker, if intoxicated, and if walking home in an urban area, might be tempted to engage in prostitution, either by soliciting one or by offering for sale his or her own sexual services. (Piemont, 2005) However, this last claim is controversial, as the claim that prostitution is harmful (in and of itself) is controversial. In any event, prostitution is economic activity, and it should be analyzed as such. For our purposes, we should note that the pre-eater who engages in prostitution on the way home from eating at a restaurant might earn money, which could cover the cost of the meal itself, and probably even the cost of the pre-eaten food. (Prostitution will be addressed in a future Money Tip.)
Pre-Eating: Best Practices
Some pre-eaters are formulating “best practices” to reduce these social costs, and to make pre-eating more economically effective. A report from the Swiss-based Pre-Eating Institute is due out 2010.
A New Financial You in 28 Days: The Blog recommends Pre-Eating. It saves money.
Try it today.
BRIAN J. FOLEY blogs now and then at A New Financial You in 28 Days.
Sarah Billings, “Holiday Pre-Eating: Food for Thought – and Your Pocketbook,” Ladies Home Journal, Dec. 15, 2006, p. 79.
Pete Cardini, “Why I ‘Pre-Eat,’” Bon Vivant, January, 2007. p. 43.
Mindy Davis,”Pre-eating and Its Discontents,” Whirlwind: A Journal of Ideas, Spring, 2006, p. 67.
Dara Piemont, “Pre-Eating and Prostitution: Evidence of a Link?” Social Concern, March, 2005, p. 1.
Dale Pott, Pre-Eating Fallacies (New York: Simon and Shuster 2007), passim.
Mark Ricard, “Some Thoughts on Pre-Drinking and DUI Statistics,” Dining, June, 2008, p. 353.
Arnold Samseer, “To Eat, Perchance, to Deny” (Review of Dale Pott, Pre-Eating Fallacies), The New York Review of Books, September 21, 2008, p. 57.
Mark Samuels, The Pre-Eater’s Manifesto (New York: Palgrave-MacMillin 2006), p.115.