What Makes A Great Restaurant

I’ve never owned or operated a restaurant.  Still, as a frequent and dedicated eater, small business marketing specialist and observer, I think I have some idea what makes one restaurant succeed and another fail.  These are my thoughts.

At the broadest level, it’s about the entire experience. Some restaurants decide that they have great food and that’s enough. Others focus on decor. A few may focus on service. For a restaurant to be great it has to have great food but it also has to be comfortable (preferably loud enough that I can’t hear the conversation clearly at the table next to me but I can hear ours without people raising their voices too much), and the service needs to be friendly and attentive.

When you think about it, any restaurant can do these things. Sadly few do…

Here are some specific examples.

  1. How long do I have to wait when I sit down for someone to check in with the table to see if they can take a drink order or get us started? This one’s pretty simple.  I don’t always want to go fast, but I want the option to eat at my own pace and here is where we will set that up. Houston’s is a great restaurant chain but make no mistake, they’re all about turning the table. Next time you eat at a Houston’s pay attention to the process when you sit down. It’s pretty well choreographed.  This said, we don’t eat at Houston’s much anymore because we always feel rushed there. If dinner costs over $100 for four people they should never feel rushed. At another restaurant that I enjoy we can wait as long as ten minutes for someone to take a drink order. This is too long and to me, not smart. The restaurant would clearly sell more drinks (an important revenue source) if they got to the tables faster. Also, guests tend to relax once they know they’re being served.
  2. Is there a menu item for everyone in my party? I want people in my party who are vegetarian, gluten free, dairy free or paleo to find exactly what they want without having to modify dishes.  I eat at another restaurant infrequently because their dishes are all heavy with butter and cream. Make no mistake, I like these dishes sometimes, but sometimes I crave a simple roasted chicken or grilled seafood dish. I’ve mentioned this to the owner and he simply says (while he is complaining about the fact that few people are eating in the restaurant) that these are his recipes and this is what people like.  The problem is that the restaurant is failing.
  3. Are the specials special? To me this shouldn’t be that hard. Chefs are creative. Seasons change. New ingredients abound. If I can recite your specials by heart when I come to your restaurant for the fifth time you should think about changing them up.  People like the option of having the same dish, but they also like trying something new every once in a while.
  4. Is the staff happy and efficient? When the food is good and the service is prompt the last step is the personal touch offered by the staff.  At the best restaurants, no matter how busy people may be, there is always a moment when the server, the expediter, the owner, the maitre de, or even the bus staff, offer a greeting and a smile and connect with the people at the table. When it happens, one can’t help but forgive a foible or two and want to root for and re-visit the restaurant.  When it doesn’t, the restaurant isn’t a who, it’s an it.  And if that’s the case it’s easy to forget.

I’m sure there are things that everyone looks for in a great restaurant.  Post your own here or put up your own post and let me know.


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