Menu Misrepresentation: What Does ‘Homemade’ Actually Mean on a Restaurant Menu?

Nobody wants to be lied to, but that’s exactly what I felt happened to me when I visited a local restaurant this week. There have been some big changes to the food scene in my local city recently, with a number of new large chain restaurants opening their doors this summer. Although I am of the opinion that this is a good thing for a number of reasons, I also think it’s incredibly important to support our independent restaurants, as they have to work extra hard to compete with established brands and big marketing budgets.

One of the best things about small independent chains and restaurants is they often like to support other local businesses too, and often favour local suppliers to source their ingredients. They also tend to make more of their own food in-house, rather than buying in everything pre-made. Apart from wanting to support and promote independent businesses, I also like to know the provenance of my food and that it has been created and cooked (where possible) on the premises and in the kitchen of the place you are dining.

A couple of years ago I would meet up with a group of friends in the middle of the week, for a burger night in a small independent chain pub in our local city. The burgers were absolutely incredible, with thick juicy patties that we’re full of flavour and quite honestly were unbeatable by anywhere else in the area. I hadn’t been there in a while and wanted to go back and see if they were still as good as I’d remembered. As previously mentioned there are now several new chain and independent burger places which have since moved to the area, so surely this pub would have needed to keep their burger game strong in order to compete. I gave them a call to book a table and to check they still definitely had their burger on the menu. Delighted to be told that they did, Mr R and I headed straight over there.

On the menu, there it was – the ‘Homemade {name of pub} burger’. We ordered our food and when the burger arrived it looked pretty good. I had asked for it to be cooked medium and when I sliced the burger in half it was completely raw in the middle. The replaced burger which followed was cooked through, but it was incredibly thin and tasted familiar, not dissimilar to a frozen or supermarket burger. I asked the waiter if the burger was homemade and he told me that they used to be, but it was too much hassle to make them. They now use Aberdeen Angus beef burgers (not sure of the relevance of this), which are bought in and not in fact homemade at all. He said that they were really popular with customers when they run the 2 for 1 burger offer during the week. This made me wonder why? Were these customers thinking they were getting a great deal on a ‘homemade’ burger and because it was cheap they didn’t think about what they were tasting or really eating?

If I had guests over for dinner and served them a pre-bought supermarket burger, passing it off as homemade when all I did was take it out of the packet and heat it up, that would be entirely dishonest. It made me feel really cross that as a small independent chain who now had the competition of bigger chain restaurants coming to the area, that they were basically offering the same thing. I was verging on angry that they were labelling their food as ‘homemade’ and that when asked, revealed it was actually not. Surely this is misrepresentation of what the customer is really paying for? I was further annoyed that for the privilege of a ‘homemade’ non homemade burger, they charge £12.50. Rest assured I did not pay for mine! It made me wonder, how many other restaurants are doing something similar?

To give my outrage some perspective; a couple of weeks ago Mr R and I visited a new local independent burger restaurant. When I spoke with the chef he told me where he sources his meat to make the burgers from and explained that they are then hand pressed each day before being cooked and served to customers. I would happily accept that the burgers at this particular restaurant could be described as ‘house’ or ‘homemade’ (even though this wasn’t used on the menu to market the burgers). The original burger with fries costs £11.05. Very reasonable for quality food which was made with care, and the chef had actually made, oh and cheaper than the pub / restaurant I referred to previously.

Do you think it’s fair to call something homemade when it is clearly not? Do you think this is misleading and a misrepresentation? If you’ve had any similar experiences or would like to comment, I’d love to hear what you think…

3 thoughts on “Menu Misrepresentation: What Does ‘Homemade’ Actually Mean on a Restaurant Menu?

  1. ADH

    Love your food blogs. Thanks for writing them. Always makes me feel hungry and keen to try new places to eat.

    Homemade obviously means “Home” & “Made” and is unfortunately seems to be a generic term used which indicates to the consumer that there are element of quality and care and even a better taste, which can be expected. We surely cannot expect a chef to make things at home and then bring them to a work to cook and serve, so that they truly satisfy the terminology. But hand made by a chef, on the premises, would surely be a minimum requirement.

    Personally I think “Handmade” would be better terminology, which requires food to be both “made” and by a human “hand” then this could set the standard by which outlets cannot deceive the customer by simply opening a packet, then and cooking and arranging the contents on a plate. Small independents restaurants who make that effort should be entitled to some advantage over the big chains who opt to warm up pre-cooked food and sell it fast and cheap. I wonder what the legal requirements are surrounding the use of the term “Homemade” ? – or for that matter any other menu blurb which is used solely to jazz up an otherwise unappealing offering. I personally hate “Chef’s Special” on the menus of a massive corporate chain when you know the in house chef has not designed the menu at all. It was probably produced by food scientists and marketing people who are driven by spreadsheets and profits, rather than a desire to satisfy every customer with amazing menus and experiences.

    Keep up the good work you do with this blog. Its brilliant !

  2. Adam Lewis

    We used to work in a relatively decent gastro pub which claimed “everything” was homemade. They even used it as an excuse to send away local producers trying to supply them. Except they had a walk in fridge and freezer full of giant catering vats of various sauces and things that were faffy to make in house and arrived in a van.

  3. Travelling Coral

    Home made should mean made there by the chef/cook/baker or made at home/small business – so a pub could buy in home made chutney or Cornish pasties for example as they are speciality foods – and then should state home made by xxx or if the chef makes the burgers, home made or made in house. Worst example of this I experienced was home made tomato soup in a chain pub (many years ago) that was clearly of the 57 varieties brand. Recently a local coffee shop claimed their cakes were ‘baked in store’ yes they used the inverted commas. Baked in what store, where? As, when I asked them about the cakes they told me they bought in the cakes, indeed I saw them delivered. They are good cakes, I don’t mind that the coffee shop doesn’t bake them. But don’t put something in inverted commas and lie to me.

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