Try some street food
Gone are the days when ‘street food’ meant a dodgy hamburger from an unlicensed trader. London is a great place for street food. Most markets in London have food stalls and they’re probably the best choice for a reasonably priced, satisfying lunch. See street food in central London.
Eat food from around the world
London really is one of the best cities to try food from around the world. You could easily avoid British food if you want. Vietnamese, Korean, Malaysian, Turkish, Indian, Chinese and Middle Eastern restaurants are usually affordable.
Pre and post-theatre menus
Even if you’re not visiting the theatre, take advantage of the special pre-theatre menus offered by some restaurants for theatre-goers in the West End. You have to eat early in the evening, usually between 5.30pm–7.30pm. If you plan to do this on a Friday or Saturday, we recommend booking in advance.
Eat from a supermarket
Supermarkets have special meal deals where you can buy a sandwich, some fruit and a soft drink for as little as £3-4. They also stock a huge range of ready-to-eat food and anything you need to make a your own sandwiches. If you have cooking facilities or the use of a microwave, it’s easy to pick up cheap ready-meals from all supermarkets — If you want the best, go to M&S or Waitrose.
Have an English breakfast
A traditional English cooked breakfast is filling. If it’s included in the price of your hotel room, you can last until evening with just a light lunch. If your hotel doesn’t offer it, find a local cafe. Expect to pay £6–£10. Most cafes serve it all day.
Keep an eye out for soft launches
A soft launch is a chance for new restaurants to test their menu, kitchen and staff before opening the doors to the public. Luckily, they want real people to experiment on and often offer 50% off. hot-dinners.com and softlaunchlondon.com are worth a look.
Eat your main meal at lunchtime
For a sit-down meal, set lunches are usually cheaper than eating in the evening, especially during the week.
Order a takeaway
If you’re staying in an apartment or AirBnB, a takeaway is a cheaper alternative to eating out. There are literally thousands in London. Just type the food you want and your postcode into Google and see what comes up. For something a bit more upmarket, try Deliveroo or Just Eat. They both deliver meals from a wide range of restaurants to your door.
Check out the chains
Chain and micro-chain restaurants can be good value.
- Pizza chains: Franco Manca, Pizza Pilgrims, Pizza Express
- Burgers: Honest Burgers, Patty & Bun, Bleecker Burger
- Healthy: Leon
- Vietnamese: Pho
- Asian: Wagamama, Banana Tree, Busaba Eathai
- Family-friendly international food: Giraffe
- French: Côte Restaurants
- Portuguese-style chicken: Nandos
Avoid overpriced drinks in a restaurant
Serious money-savers should only drink tap water in restaurants. Restaurants must, by law, provide tap water if they serve alcohol. Tap water in the UK is perfectly safe to drink. If you eat in a pub that charges a service charge for food, buy your drinks seperately at the bar.
Eat in a pub
Pub food can be a cheap option but the quality varies. Wetherspoon pubs are hard to beat on price — don’t expect a gourmet meal.
If you do want a good meal, try a Gastropub.
Ask for a ‘doggy bag’
If you order too much food at a cheap, non-chain restaurant, ask the restaurant to pack up your remaining food to takeaway. Don’t be shy. You paid for it.
Read the menu before going into a restaurant
By law, all restaurants must display their menu with prices close to the entrance. Check for minimum charges and whether they add a ‘discretionary’ service charge to your bill. If they do, it will probably be around 10–12.5%. This is the ‘tip’ so there’s no need to pay anything extra. We don’t have a North American style tipping culture. If there’s no service charge, UK residents would normally tip around 10%.
Last updated: 16 January 2023