We were a clan. We stuck together, bound by our unanimously low achievements to date and our (ill-founded) belief that it would all be okay in the end. Everything that came to us was friendly and discounted and multiple and probably happened on a weeknight somewhere that wasn’t London. Where Nick Clegg let us down, our NUS cards never did. Armed with one of these, we became equals again: even those with student loans secretly stowed away in high-interest savings accounts at least pretended to feel the squeeze at the end of the month and no one judged when birthday meals were held at Pizza Express. Hipsters called it ironic. Others called it Orange Wednesday. Either way, eating out meant having fun and an extra plate of dough balls. Then, with a brief handshake and a flurry of celebratory photos that clogged up the newsfeed for two weeks in July, we became graduates. And suddenly, people started ordering bottled water.
You can call yourself a “graduate” and hope that it will have the same homogenising effect as being a “student” but you’ll soon realise you are living a lie. It’s like eating chocolate mousse with a teaspoon – you’re only fooling yourself. The rules of eating out have changed. No one really knows where they came from and no one really wants to live by them. But you’re a graduate in London, so you probably will…
1) No more chain restaurants. Or Groupon deals. The next time it will be justifiable to go to Pizza Express is at 6pm on a Friday night where your two youngest will fight over the last bite of the chocolate fudge cake, ordered by no one except owners of 2.3 kids and a terraced house in Barnes. Triple irony is not a thing. Anything that isn’t a pop-up, in a van or fusion cooking is now dead to you.
2) You will eat out more frequently. It comes in the same package as ‘after work drinks’ and you’ll be doing it even if you are one of the 2 in 5 still without work (and despite the facts that you are less economically independent than you were when you had a loan and your mum probably offered you lasagne before you left the house).
3) You will have to tip. A 12.5% service charge changes nothing. That unspoken law of understanding between waiters and students will not save you anymore – it’s just rude.
4) Carving up the bill into cups per bottle and I-didn’t-have-a-piece-of-bread is no longer socially acceptable. The sensation of your stomach sinking as your friend orders the beef wellington will be a regular occurrence. Do you go teetotal and only order a starter to lower the overall expense by £2.15 a head? Or will you turn merciless, treat it like it’s the Last Supper and bring a couple of other unpaid interns down with you? Either way, by the end of the meal you will probably end up hating your friend that works at JP Morgan more than you already do.