On dining out. The secrets of a good restaurant


Yes, the joy of dining out. Mind you, it’s getting really tough these days to find a good restaurant. And I don’t mean the food. Food, so that you know, comes last in the list of requirements of a good evening out.

Let me explain.

Strange as it may seem, but good restaurants – and we are talking here about proper restaurants and not junk food joints or cheap trashy eateries – are mostly about the atmosphere, or the vibe. If the vibe in a restaurant is not good, even the best of food in the world will not make it a great place to come to.

Imagine, for a moment that you walk into a restaurant that has a reputation for great food, but you find that it just doesn’t feel and look right. Let’s assume that it’s too noisy. Many restaurant owners don’t realise that noise is a major problem and a serious turn-off. There are ways of cutting down on the noise, like, for example, hanging pictures or decorative carpets on the walls, which absorb the sound of conversation and laughter, but most fancy eateries nowadays opt for the modern look with its bare walls, so once they start to fill up, the noise levels become too high. And if you add some shitty modern pop blasting from the speakers, then it becomes pretty irritating so that you might be even tempted to cut your dinner short and walk out.

And while we are on the subject of music, I would like to ask this: why is it that so many restaurant owners opt for annoying background music? Why not some good quality R&B, or jazz, or even classics? Why does it have to be electro, dance or even club tunes and rap? Who needs this rubbish in a restaurant claiming to be a good place to dine out?

But noise is not the only problem that spoils the mood. Some restaurants lose out immediately, on entry, if they have no proper air conditioning. A stuffy, smelly place is not a good place to be in, let alone eat or drink. So a restaurant that claims to be good but has no proper air conditioning might just as well close down.

Then comes the décor and the feeling of open space. Imagine that the colours in the restaurant that you have entered clash and are generally not pleasant to look at. And the tables are positioned too close to each other so that you are forced to sit as if sandwiched between two people on both sides, who might talk loudly and eat like pigs. Would you want to spend a lot of time in a place like that, or go there again? I doubt it, I very much doubt it. Even if the food there would not be all that bad.

Next comes another important component of the restaurant’s atmosphere, the service. What happens if you find that the waiters are not really all that keen to see you and do not demonstrate any friendliness or inclination to serve you? And what if they look scruffy and emit the smell of a strong after-shave? They smile at you insincerely, hand you the menu and disappear without even asking what you would like to drink. And then they finally appear and when you order mineral water they ask you whether you want it still or sparkling, as if it is the most important decision of the evening. Why not just bring a bottle of each and get over with the unimportant part of the order?

And then comes the torturous ordering of food and you realise that your waiter has no idea about the dishes on the menu and probably eats in the junk food joint round the corner. And then the food takes ages to arrive and it is not at all what you expected. And the waiter seems to vanish and you cannot even order a second drink. And the conversation at the table somehow does not seem to flow nicely, with all the confusion.

Are you going to be tolerant and just ignore the bad service? And would you want to go there again? No you would not. Bad service in restaurants is a fun killer at all times.

And now we come to food itself which, as you can see, is not the top priority. Most restaurant food cannot compete with properly cooked home-made food. It is simply impossible. So what restaurants do is they go for all sorts of gimmicks to serve food that looks fancy, but often tastes bland and unexciting. And this is where I come back to the point I made at the very beginning: people go to restaurants in the evening not to eat, they go there to absorb the atmosphere and to socialise, romantically or casually. So even if the dishes they are offered are very average but the atmosphere is great they would not even notice what it is they are eating. They would be too busy socialising. And that is why the atmosphere, or the vibe, if you prefer to call it that, takes priority over the food. And a good vibe in restaurants, I am sorry to say, is something that is very hard to find these days.