Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Restaurant Review: Criteria

Having written a few restaurant reviews and planning to continue to do so, I though I might write a brief explanation of what I'm looking for when I review a restaurant.  Generally speaking, here's what I look for.


Which is defined as:
1.  the mood, character, quality, tone, atmosphere, etc., particularly of an environment or milieu: The restaurant had a delightful ambiance.
2.  that which surrounds or encompasses; environment.

  • What kind of ambiance is the restaurant trying to achieve and did the place do so successfully?  If the restaurant seeks to provide a fine dining experience as compared to a greasy spoon or a family style restaurant, then this should be obvious.  The question then becomes success or failure - is this, in fact, an atmosphere where fine dining can take place as was intended, or is it silver plating over cast iron?  My personal preferences tend towards fine dining and successful theme restaurants.
  • Is there suitable distance between the tables?  Keeping the noisy drunks at a safe distance is mandatory.  More space is better, and will increase the level of service as the server can move about freely.  Large people have enough room to sit and retain their seat without having to rise and allow a fellow diner to make his or her way to the restroom... and back again.
  • Are the acoustics good?  Noise level?  Unless there is entertainment, and by this I mean professional entertainment and not the cackling cadre of aged females at the next table, the noise level should permit conversation at the table without having to raise your voice to make yourself heard.
  • Is the lighting bright enough to read the menu?  Light level?  I like to see what I'm eating, and I don't want to have to use my flashlight to read the menu.
  • Is the temperature of the room pleasant?  Comfort level?  Like most men I'm not bothered by cold, but I know that many women are.  This may have something to do with the low cut dress she's wearing, but no matter.  No one can enjoy a meal while she is shivering in the chair next to you, so I insist that the place be warm enough for everyone to be comfortable.  Likewise, I object to eating in a sauna and will generally leave rather than subject myself to a steam room.
  • Does the place smell clean?  I don't want to detect faulty plumbing in the kitchen or the strong disinfectant from the rest rooms.  The place should have a neutral odor about it; not the aftereffects of a toxic spill clean up.
  • Aesthetic layout of the restaurant - are the kitchen and restroom doors hidden?  One thing I detest is having to sit and watch people filing in and out of the rest rooms.  Ditto with the kitchen - I truly do not want to know what the man made hell of the kitchen in an oriental restaurant looks like.


The key to great service is anticipation of the customer's needs.  The glass isn't half full - it's half empty.  Fill it.  The other half of this equation is being completely invisible and undetectable until the customer wants something, then magically appearing at the table.  Having experienced this, I know it's possible.  I also know it's rare.

  • Is the waitress or waiter initially prompt, at least with a greeting?  The minimum requirement is that I be greeted by a server right after I'm seated, even if it's only to acknowledge my presence and reassure me that someone will be with me shortly.  My server should stop by to take my drink order within the first three minutes after I'm seated.
  • Do they have a neat, clean appearance?  A dirty apron or a tattooed sleeve are not appropriate.  Servers don't have to dress up, but they must be neat and clean, and they must smell clean.  Nix the perfume and aftershave.
  • Is the waitress available when you need them?  I should not be forced to look for my server, nor should I have to ask for my waiter to stop by my table.
  • Does the waitress vanish when not needed?  When I'm eating I hate being interrupted.  Do not stop around with a bright, perky "Is everything delicious?!" while I have a mouthful of food.  If the wait staff isn't needed, they should vanish and neither be seen nor heard.
  • Did the wait staff correct their mistakes efficiently?  Everyone screws up.  The real question that marks superior service is not if the wait staff or kitchen screwed up, but how long it took to fix the problem.
  • Is the wait staff non-intrusive?  I'm not interested in my waiter's personal life, nor am I interested in the wait staff's comments about any conversation I'm having.  Don't like my views on marriage, children, religion or politics?  Too bad.
  • Was there extra service, such as table preparation or clean up between courses?  I enjoy table side preparation, especially if the wait staff put on a good show.  In addition to serving, I've had the waitress clean the crumbs from my tablecloth between courses, which is nice and refreshing.  Removing the dirty dishes promptly makes dinner enjoyable.


  • Is the kitchen timely?  Yeah, the kitchen gets backed up.  It's not my problem.  The chef gets paid to handle this kind of problem, so let him.
  • Are the ingredients good quality?  A chef can do almost anything except improve poor quality ingredients.  A tough steak is not going to magically improve just because Chef Pierre subjects it to his own special touch and serves it with his secret red wine sauce.  It's still going to be sole of Nike covered in red wine sauce.
  • Is the cooking good quality?  The best ingredients in the world can be ruined by an incompetent chef, and the worst part about this is that the chef will never know that he truly does not know what he's doing.
  • Is the plate attractive?  People eat with their eyes.  If it looks good, it probably is quite tasty - there are exceptions to this.
  • Did the chef stop around to greet the diners?  It takes a brave chef to do this.  The great chefs do, mainly because they're sure of their response.  And, should the food not be suitable, the chef will fix it.

Restaurants live or die on service.  If I want a successful restaurant, all I have to do is provide mediocre food along with a non-offensive ambience, but I must couple that with outstanding service.  So long as the customers are seated comfortably and the food is palatable, I can dazzle them with service and they'll all become regulars.

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