Good restaurants have as many universal qualities as unique qualities. Customers often are looking for telltale signs they are in a good place. Prompt service, an attractive room, innovative menus, extensive wine lists and fair pricing are all basics that many people, including restaurant reviewers focus on.
I asked four top restaurateurs and industry professionals to tell me a few things they look for as signs that they are in a good restaurant.
Andy is the owner of the Barcelona Restaurant Group, based in South Norwalk Connecticut, and Top Spin Events. His career included culinary apprenticeship in France, work as an executive chef in top restaurants and as the longtime owner and operator of the ever expanding and highly successful Barcelona Restaurant Group.
- The owner or manager at the door, not just the hostess.
- A busy bar area.
- Wine list that has exciting wines at the7-10 glass range.
- Specials that look recent -- today if possible.
- Right amount of food on a plate -- not microscopic portions, but not huge ones either.
- A crowd that dresses well, but not as if they don't eat out often.
Les is the owner/operator of London Lennies, a legendary 185-seat restaurant in Rego Park, Queens, that has been serving hand selected seafood for over fifty years. He has spent his career as a premier fish buyer and restaurateur, who is only interested in offering great product to his guests at fair pricing.
- A host or hostess is there to greet me.
- Everything is neat, orderly and tidy.
- There is a cohesive common thread between the décor, menu, the attire of the waitstaff, the wine list the cocktail list, the beer list; that all tie together.
- How professional are the waitstaff? Are they well groomed, pleasant, polite, and knowledgeable about the products they sell?
Gerry Dawes is a longtime wine professional who is very highly regarded for his expertise on Spanish wine and Spain in general. Howard Goldberg of the NY Times has referred to him as 'Mr. Spain.' Currently he is importing Spanish wines through his company, Spanish Artisan Wine Group, Gerry Dawes Selections. Along with selling wine to literally thousands of restaurants in his career, Gerry has also been a restaurant reviewer.
There is an intuition among people with experience in restaurant dining about whether their chances for having a great dining experience is going to be good. All kinds of things have to add up right away: How are you greeted and seated? Does the staff seem to be genuinely interested in you as a diner, or are they merely spouting a practiced establishment line that sounds insincere? Does the maître d' or wait staff make you feel uncomfortable because of their attitude?
From the point of view of a former restaurant reviewer, a look at the menu can speak volumes. Are there really delicious-sounding dishes on the menu? Does the menu seem well thought out? Example:
A short menu should not offer a really attractive mushroom or shrimp dish, then include those same ingredients as a key element in one of the few main course dishes.
A wine list does not have to be large, but there should be enough well chosen reasonably priced whites, reds, and roses to offer wine lovers who don't want to spend a fortune... an attractive alternative that will enhance their dining experience.
The quality of the dining experience must match what is being charged or the guest will not return.
Michael is one of the busiest people in the industry. He is the founder and owner of Hudson Valley Foie Gras, the chef/owner of the highly regarded Lola Restaurant in Great Neck, NY, and a partner with Chef Ken Oringer of Boston's La Verdad. He is a frequent traveler and always has his eye on what makes a restaurant successful.
I know a place is good, when they are busy. They must be good, or represent a good value.
When I am looking at menus, I look for seasonality, and an ever-changing combination of imagination and ingredients that reflect the geographic location.
He also knows what restaurants to stay away from.
I stay away from restaurants with a view, and I am very wary of hotel concierge recommendations. I avoid restaurants that are named after a number, a color, or a place. I know the Chef or owner lacks imagination.
I will definitely follow the advice from the kitchen or service staff of a hotel. I can do research to find the high end restaurants. I want to know the places the locals love.