I have never run, worked or owned an eating establishment. I have never taken any classes or read any books that would qualify me in any way to review eating places. I just like good food and want consistent results when I return to a restaurant. I have looked at other web sites for restaurant recommendations and have been disappointed. Most sites have some vested interest; it seems, whether true or not.
This web site restaurant reviews, I promise to you, will be honest to the point of being brutal. In this document I will share with you my review tactics. Let us share knowledge of the good, bad and in-between dining experiences, in an effort to move up the bar of your next eating experience. Please add your comments so you do not only hear from me. I want to hear from you!
As I get older, I am less willing to let a slight pass. I will call the owner or manager over if any significant part of my meal experience is unsatisfactory. I believe it is my responsibility to that establishment to let them know if there is any deficiency. Most owners and managers want that feedback. If they do not, there is something wrong. It is not much of a stretch to share my perceptions with you. You can either agree or obviously disagree. I will in any case try to refrain from mentioning any bad or unsatisfactory restaurants. My thrust is to help the good restaurants become better and reward those restaurants that are getting the formula right. I believe that the dining experience is the compilation of quite a few factors, some obviously, more important than others. I do not just rate the food only but I also take in quite a long list of other factors into consideration. No restaurant can get a real high score without excellent prepared, presented and tasting food along with those other factors. It should be mentioned that I do have, on my recommended list, restaurants that have the formula almost complete. But, I am a bit disappointed in the food in some way. However, when I am left with a feeling that I had a good meal I will give the restaurant a good grade. That might sound impossible but you should realize that I value many things when dining. It is the sum total of the dining experiences not just the food.
Our family loves to dine out but our finances are such that we cannot afford to frequent the more costly establishments. My wife and I do not like fast food places, which our children seem to love. There is a constant battle as to where we will eat and because mom and dad think they are in control, and our votes outweigh our children, we prevail most but not all of the time. You will therefore see some fast food establishments included here and as such I hope you do not think this belittles our interest in good food. It probably means that we found a jewel in the pile of stones. Now remember, we do add the recommendations of Mark, the lawyer, who dines at more expensive restaurants. We have yet to test out his selections to see if we agree.
This is where you and I will or might not agree. Your tastes are going to be different than mine. I do not like hot-spiced food. I do like food where I can taste interesting flavors and chew interesting textures and smell interesting smells. You might like Cajon. I do not. You might like bland. I do not. I prefer a chef taking a chance than rather playing it safe. I pick the signature dishes every time. I tend to choose items that are only offered today and not every day. I want to be wowed if that is possible. I will avoid hamburgers, hotdogs, and pizzas. I leave my children to give you recommendations on those typical American dishes.
Because we have rather young children, we must choose restaurants that are child friendly. When our children were small this meant that the restaurant had to be loud to muffle the loud carryings on of our children. Now that they are older we have included the more sedate, refined places.
It is my idea that eating in a fine dining establishment is more enjoyable when a number of factors are put together to enhance the overall experience. The taste and quality of the food is very important but many other factors should also be present to make for a good dining experience. Some of the factors that we consider are listed here in no particular order of importance:
Service – A very important element of a good meal is having a good waiter or waitress, buss boy, manager, cooks, cashier, etc. I want a server that is knowledgeable about the food. If I ask for the signature dish recommendation and I get a reply like “well everything on our menu is good”, I know I have a dunce on my hands and will mark the restaurant down for poor service. I love a server who has tried the selections and has a firm opinion to share with us. I want my food placed before me in an appropriate interval, which I understand will vary according to menu selection. But I want everyone at my table served as close to the same time as possible. This usually reflects on the cooks. The server is probably the single most important person in a restaurant for the simple reason that it is that person only that attends to my needs. I want knowledge, efficiency, accuracy, and good communications skills. I want to feel that the server is working for me not the restaurant, however incorrect that actually is. I think the best servers hold that attitude and get the best tips.
Cleanliness – A very important but basic foundation for receiving good food is pristine utensils. In fact every object on the table from saltshaker to the bread plate must be a joy to view. You will refuse to use any utensil that has any stuck food on it won’t you? Some restaurants even take great care to not contaminate food items such as The Claim Jumper chain of restaurants.
Location – It is just plain simple that some restaurants must attract clients when they are located far from large local populations of people. Likewise, I sometimes fee that some restaurants slack off in doing their best because there location is so convenient. If I think that a restaurant in a high traffic location is not doing its best, I will subtract points.
Adequate parking – It can be down right frustrating to arrive at a restaurant and find no parking spaces available. Some restaurants offer valet parking to offset a location that does not have adequate parking. Our family never uses valet parking. If a restaurant cannot offer adequate parking I will detract from the overall score.
Security – I will not make any recommendation of a restaurant that I feel or know is unsafe due to its location or any other factor that comes in the category of safety. I do not accept any responsibility for not being aware of any problem with a restaurant being in a bad location as I am not a police officer working in that or any city.
Food presentation – When the plate of food is placed in front of you it should look spectacular. Well maybe not spectacular but if I look surprised at what I see and it tastes as good as it looks then the marks are added for that establishment. Food presentation is very, very important!
Prices – The price of a meal should hold good value. When you get a skimpy meal and the price is high and the service slow and the food quality average, well, we mark that establishment very low.
Decor – The good meal experience is the bringing together of many factors. I do not hold decor in great value but I fully appreciate good surrounding and I know that the surrounding work for or against a terrific meal. Some decors can make up for slow service but only to a small extent.
Table or Booth layout – Have you ever been to a restaurant where the servers brush your chair constantly because the tables are spaced to close to one another or the serving aisle? We mark restaurants down for this but conversely give restaurant higher marks if there is good space between tables.
Table setting – I really appreciate having a knife fork and spoon as well as a cloth napkin, water glass and condiments if appropriate for the meal. Some restaurants cut costs by not offering these basics. I do not like my meal getting cold while trying to flag down a waiter for a missing utensil. There is absolutely no excuse for not having a proper setup before each person sitting at the table.
Furniture – My big gripe are the sharp edged tables. You should not put your elbows on a table but you may rest your arm against the edge of the table. If that edge is sharp the restaurant has failed to offer a comfortable setting. I want a chair or booth to be comfortable. The table should not tip. I am annoyed no end if the table is not firm. I will get on my hands and knees to wedge the menu under the short leg if need be and will score the restaurant low. I like a lot of room around me. I like long booths. I very much dislike the booth bench that slides.
Handicapped accessibility – No one in our family is handicapped but in my line of work I have become more aware and thus interested in looking at the layout of restaurants that work for or against the individual who has some form of handicap. If a wheelchair cannot gain access to a restaurant, it will be noted for this violation. If a restaurant has any problem for easy access, I will comment about it. I welcome any handicapped individual to e-mail me with remarks about good and not so good eating establishments. Also indicate in the last paragraph of your e-mail a way I can get in touch with you to confirm the information and if I can include your comments.
Walking distance – This is especially a problem with restaurants located in large malls and theme parks. The elderly do not want to walk any fraction of a mile for their meal. Some customers suffer from some medical problem that makes a long hike a chore.
Bread – Quite a few restaurants offer bread at the table before the real meal begins. When you have children, this bread is very important. In fact, my daughter, I swear, is a vegetarian and bread and cereal is her favorite food. It seems that the more unique and better tasting bread influences our children’s opinion of a restaurant. For mom and dad, good tasting bread is very much appreciated.
Restrooms – I was astonished to see that both my children got such a delight to view the restrooms at a certain age. If a large restaurant only has one stall for the women they will get a low score. If the restroom is not clean, mentioned previously, a low mark. If this room is difficult in any way for handicapped, well, a low mark. If the men’s room only has one stall and the restaurant is otherwise a very good establishment, they will get a low mark because any person in a wheel chair will take longer to maneuver and thus might cause some resentment which is vastly unfair.
Hot and cold food – If the food arrives cold and it is expected be hot then a way low score. And likewise if the item is to be cold but arrives warm – you guessed it, a low score. Some restaurants have heat lamps to keep the food hot until the server arrives to pick the order up. If I can view those heat lamps and my meal is sitting under those lamps for any unreasonable time, very low mark.
Hot and cold room – Have you ever sat down at a restaurant to feel that you are in a meat locker? I have had to call the server or manager over too many times to complain that the room is either too hot or cold. There is one restaurant that has its air ducts set to blow on the tables at the far end of the room where in summer it can be bone cold. I will detract points for an establishment that consistently fails to set its climate control to a comfortable temperature.
Drinks – What you are drinking is a part of the overall meal. I dislike having to look around the restaurant to find someone to refill my coffee or ice tea. I tend to lower my tip from 20% to doubling the tax if I have to be unconvinced. Likewise, I want the wine presented appropriately.
Consistency – Have you ever gone to a restaurant more than once to receive two completely different dining experiences? Well I have and way too often. I do not like it one bit. I expect a restaurant to offer the same or better experience each time I attend. It is true that a sever might have an off day. The cook might have a sick child at home and cannot fully concentrate on his work. The buss boy is new or has been given a new assignment of tables. I think I can ferret out some of this, as I tend to chat with the server out of genuine interest in all that is going on. If there is no good reason for one meal being off then I fault the management and will give the establishment a low score.
Over the top – What I mean here is when something or someone working in the restaurant does something out of the ordinary, something unexpectedly nice for you to enjoy. In other words, it does not cost you anything for this. You did not expect this pleasantry. This might be entertainment, a test of a dish or beverage or the server shares an interesting story. I walked into one restaurant the Riverside Brewery that we had been going for some time to find a magician going from table to table doing slight of hand trick. My children just loved the meal because of the magician coming to our table. I have been offered beers and wines to test. One night we entered a restaurant that we frequent occasionally. We did not expect a guitarist that night that was really good. I cannot remember what I had to eat that night, just that this guy could really strum a guitar.
Closing remarks I frankly find it very difficult to put number value on any component listed above. It is much easier and in some respects, more realistic, to have a meal and take the whole experience in when arriving at a score points. I arbitrarily score the restaurant because some factors just show themselves at one establishment as being more important while other factors just do not come to mind. There is an overall impression one receives during and after a meal and this is what one carries in ones mind and days after. This is what I am attempting to recreate for you, the sum impression.