Thursday, 7.40pm. You're meeting friends for dinner and you're looking forward to the simple pleasure of picking whatever food you fancy and having it made for you.
But embossed on an off-white menu in your hand are the two most annoying words you will ever encounter in a restaurant: small plates. You're not in the mood to share - no one is - yet the £8 pork belly, £6 salt and pepper squid and inexplicable £3.50 bread and butter are being mulled over all the same. Because sharing is caring - right? It would feel anti-social not to.
There was a time when sharing dishes like this was restricted to tapas-style cuisine. A time when you could safely enter a restaurant without having to politely scrap over overpriced cubes of meat.
But a few years ago, every good, average or bad restaurant realised the mark-up to be made on serving numerous tiny plates of sharing food at mid-level prices, and now we've all gone small plate mad.
The whole affair begins with your waiter patronisingly asking if you know how the menu 'works', as if anyone with a basic grasp of language couldn't put the words small and plates together and surmise what might be going on.
A table scrum then ensues as you try to decide what to order, working on the doomed premise that you can actually please all of the people all of the time. At this stage you want to make it very clear that the seared tuna is yours. You're happy for the aubergine and feta to not come your way but there needs to be a level of human decency and respect here regarding the fucking seared tuna.
At some point someone asks the waiter how much is the right amount, because a 'small plate' can mean just about anything. They all repeat the same answer: "it depends how hungry you are." Well I'm in a restaurant ordering food and I haven't started eating the table so just assume I'm fairly hungry, OK? "3-4 per person should be enough" he finally replies, though at this point no one is sure of anything.
You anxiously await the arrival of those mysterious plates, and sure enough, 14 enormous dishes of patatas bravas are lowered onto your table while the squid you were looking forward turns out to just be three solitary rings. They vanish before you lay eyes upon them. Were they ever really there?
Where does this end? You wonder, stomach rumbling. Are we going to have to group co-ordinate our main courses next? Then the worst small plate of all arrives: the bill. Those meagre quantities sure do add up, so even though you've barely eaten you still have to cough up £32 because someone else just had to have a Borrower-size beef wellington.
Please, please can go back to the days of ordering whatever we want and having it to ourselves, without being guilt-tripped into communal eating? You can try some of whatever is on my plate - that's not a problem, dig in. Just make sure that plate is big, and make sure it's mine.