The 5 Facets of a Good Restaurant

  1. The 5 Facets of A Good Restaurant

    Jim Berman

    A good restaurant is not just about the food. It is about the experience. The experience is about service, the surroundings, the food and a bit of the colorful panache that gets served with each dish. And a bit about the way a titillating dining experience makes you feel after you leave.

    1. Do I want to go in there? The cut-out, strip-malled, fake stucco and neon green trim is no more inviting than going to the proctologist with your girlfriend. The McRestaurant landscape is plum-full of chains, mega-buffets and lackluster fry houses. An experience worth remembering starts with the front door; I want to go in there because the cover looks inviting and stimulating as much as I hope the pages therein will deliver. And clean.

    2. The voice of the restaurant is the menu. And the chatter should be colorful, articulate and more than a bit interesting. It should be engaging. Like talking to newly found friends, there is much to discover as well as some common bonds. A restaurant’s offerings should pique your interest on many fronts and hold your attention in a way that makes you want to participate in what has to be said, in a way you can relate, mentioning some fare that you once knew or want to know. It should not bore you. It should not be idle sustenance that exists as the rambling pontification of the customer service operator asking about the weather in Pittsburgh when they are in Budapest. Feed me good food, entice me with an interesting selection that makes the selection a pleasantly curious one.

    3. Enough with the kitsch on the walls. Some mementos? Yes. Artful chalkboards? Absolutely. Hell, even pictures of the by-gone days will do. Random junk nail-gunned into every square inch of naked wall space is akin to bathing in gravy when all you need is a good hand washing.  I want to eat in a restaurant, not a flea market turned junk store that makes Goodwill envious.

    4. Lively banter with the waitron is welcomed, preferred and goes a long way to stacking the cards on the pile of me wanting to return. Make me feel like you are my cousin-once-removed. Don’t make me feel like you are my mom. Or worse, the lady at the DMV. Do not sit with us, lean on the table or otherwise cross the line that makes me think you are going to friend-request me when your shift ends. The chilly, Cruela de Vil thing does not work, either; I know it is Friday and you rather be out with your man, but you are making some good cash if you can keep up appearances. Besides, when you go out, you want some lovey-dovey treatment, not a bitch-slap for asking for another Screwdriver.

    5. The food is there to give you a warm, internal hug. To hell with the term ‘Comfort Food.’ All food should be comfortable. What else is there? Vomit? If you like it, it is then comforting. To the gallows with the over-the-top fourteen-course tasting menu comprised of a Pretentious Farms First Cold Pressed Extra Virgin Olive Oil Basted Sprout of Albino Chicken Spleen and the thirteen other ‘tastings of the chef’s whimsy’ that does nothing more than delay your stop for a pizza on your way to get home to the bathroom. Feed me. I want to walk through the doors, meet my enthusiastic waiter or waitress, journey over a craftily adept menu then have a foodgasm right there at the table. It does not have to be covered in uncomfortable black-lace and a too-tight bustier for me to seek a culinary afterglow. Give me cozy jeans and a well-hung t-shirt that make me burst following the last bite. I shall gladly pay what you ask, just deliver what I seek.

    The experience makes you want to go back, not tomorrow because that will ruin the memory, rather a month or two from now, like revisiting vacation pictures. The Magic Kingdom becomes less magical if the visit is too frequent, but oh so delicious when the time is right.

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  1. skipstrr
    As a chef and a once long time server I always frown upon touching/leaning on the table. Also same applies to the ones who crouch down as if they're greeting my baby in its stroller. I am not a dog nor do I resemble one, nor do I have a baby. It's easy to sell a dish that you love, and try to be accommodating. Most of all just pay attention and don't ask if I need more water just fill the glass quietly and walk away. Zuni Cafe in San Francisco tought us never to interfere with customers..they are not there to talk to us. If they have a problem they will tell you. Let your presence known with out the "is everything okay?" line...replace the butter, give more bread, and fill water glasses. If they choose to talk to you, then talk...briefly. Not there to add them to my Christmas card list either!
  2. jim berman
    Thanks! I really enjoy being in the back of the house as the man behind the curtain. Equally, however, I enjoy being a diner and a somewhat astute one, at that. It was fun putting the article together and getting out some thoughts that had been welling up for a bit.
    I'll be in Scranton later this week. Where are you located?
  3. stinkys chili
    too bad there aren't more customers like you LOL. My customers think similar to the way you expressed yourself.(and I love them)- I am proud to have the intelligent crowd in scranton. Thanks for the post I enjoyed the albino chicken part...
  4. butcherman
    AL: Amen to that. And please know I am not ignoring or minimizing how difficult it can be to serve the public. People can be such louses. I'd rather fall down the Black Run at Crested Butte on my face than go back to serving the public. But IMO, the key is teaching the servers to get out of themselves; when they put on that server apron with your logo on it, they Become that character: The Accommodating Host; The Knowledgeable Hostess. Not the weary "we sell a lot of both of those, Sir" but rather, "If you like scallops, they are amazing tonight; very sweet and that glaze just makes them sing! the beef, of course, is much more food; we sampled that dish too, and it's...." To the waitron with the Typical Attitude, I'm NEEDY. To the waitron In Character, I'm his guest and he is gonna, by God, create this meal as a Wonderful Experience. With the help of AL in the kitchen.
  5. just learning
    Great stuff. I agree with you 100%. As a cook I know the servers in my restaurant make much more than I and they are very upset when they get a needy (as they have been called) patron.
  6. butcherman
    Good, useful commentary. Of the three legs of the stool, Food is First. No question, no debate. Ambiance/design is third: lighting, decor, furniture, traffic pattern, visual affirmation of the food theme, are all key. But # 2 is Hospitality, as expressed foremost by the waiter/waitress, but also by the reception desk, the reservation person, etc. The waitron (I guess from your usage that's the gender neutral term) must enjoy, relish taking on the role in your play of Host/Hostess: making the guest feel comfortable, welcome, even pampered. I have heard waitrons say, "I really fixed that goofball on Twelve". That's not her job! That goofball at Table Twelve is her Uncle Bob, so to speak, and her job is to make him giddy with joy that he came in for dinner tonight. Gotta have a Waiter's Eyes. I have often said at a meal's conclusion, "I see you watch your tables; thank you". Gratuity line on the bill also says Thank you.
  7. jim berman
    @iceman - Thank you! I am glad you are enjoying the pieces. Feedback means a lot to me.
    @supercenterchef - agreed! There is definitely a line that gets crossed.... too often.
  8. supercenterchef
    "Do not sit with us, lean on the table or otherwise cross the line that makes me think you are going to friend-request me when your shift ends"
    That drives me absolutely crazy!
  9. Iceman
    Again, you give us such a very cool article.
  10. jim berman
    Thanks! I sometimes think that our mission can be detoured. Some simple approaches are, often, the best.