We dine out for several reasons: to be merry, for convenience, to live, to drown our sorrows, to revel in celebration, for intimacy, for togetherness, for solitude, for comfort. It does not matter where you satisfy the emotional or physical hunger, be it at somewhere as simple as the neighborhood fast-food joint, or that posh French restaurant in that great hotel you stayed in during the summer. As long as the you got what you want, the way you want it, at the price you want it for. The repast is an everyday occurrence, highly unavoidable. To veer away from the mundane and boring, we look for something more each time we are away from home. What makes a great dining experience?
Good food and beverage – Goes without saying. Whether chosen from a small menu at the local canteen, or lavished upon your table side by a gueridon-wielding professional server, as long as you can taste the flavor and feel the unique texture, something that is different from the status quo, that adds to the experience. Why else would you repeatedly go back to Manong Henry’s adobo or Starbucks’ French Roast?
Great company – I know. I know. I mentioned solitude. Think out of the dining box for a millisecond here. While you read that great magazine in the warm cafe on a rainy Tuesday afternoon, the wait staff were there to greet you, to serve you, to assist you in every way p0ssible. Then have the professionalism to give you some privacy. On the other end of the spectrum, real friends. REAL friends. Close relatives. Your favorite cousin. Your son back from European boarding school. Anybody who touched your life, no matter how small or insignificant.
A comfortable chair – The right height. Not too soft, not too hard. Goldilocks' fantasy. Something you could sink your derriere into smoothly. That would allow a bit of freedom to slouch or to jerk around in when reacting to that lame joke your date just blurted out.
Knowledgeable and efficient staff – Either the wait staff or the cooks. Hell, even the friendly utility man who keeps the bathrooms impeccably clean. They add to the ambience, the image, the validation that you done good. A server who just knew what kind of chocolate decadence to indulge you with. The manager who made sure you were looked after. The cook who knew how al dente you wanted your risotto to be. The staff are so versed that you need not bother navigating the menu, because their enthusiastic description encouraged you to pick right, not pick the most profitable for the restaurant. The correct lobster fork discreetly placed moments before the dish arrives.
Clean bathrooms – Fresh paper towels. Well stocked hand detergent and sanitizer bottles. Running water. Clean tiled surfaces. Good appointments of creature comfort. For all intents and purposes, the WC is the definition on how serious the establishment regards hygiene and sanitation, and ultimately, your comfort and satisfaction.
Ambience – good music that wafts through the dining room to isolate you from the outside world. Or equally effective the lack of music to lessen distraction from that plate of crostini. The right temperature setting of the room, when you don’t need to wrap yourself in bulky pullovers or dress down to your unmentionables (Although sometimes the latter adds to the excitement of the meal). Decor that fits your mood perfectly. YOUR mood. Why else would pay P12o for a regular cup of coffee?
Moolah for grub – or to put it another way, value for money. Getting your money’s worth. It’s a rare and great feeling to have enjoyed shelling out your hard earned cash for an enjoyable meal. And this transcends all social classes! A mere street vendor gets his money’s worth when that steaming bowl of noodle soup satisfies his family’s hunger. Or the high powered executive getting the rare Chateuneuf du Pape because he just wanted to experience the velvet luxury before he dies. Or even the student enjoying the slice of Yellow Cab shrimp and garlic pizza in the company of her riotous classmates.
A place for everything, and everything in its place – The right cutlery to carve my steak. The right serviette to wipe the Big Mac Special Sauce from my kid’s cheeks. The right condiments, within easy reach. The well designed menu for easy navigation. The right sized mirror in the bathroom. The well maintained privacy locks in the cubicles. Unobtrusive center table decor. The coffee cup that keeps the java from freezing over. Anything that makes the place seem just right. Because everything one would need is there.
Attitude – the reason why you dine out in the first place. Whatever mood or inclination you are in, you had a reason why you are there. Why you decided to leave the comforts of home to partake in the repasts of total strangers, serving up food from behind closed doors. The mindset that propelled you to order the fugu, throwing care and your children’s inheritance into the wind. A great attitude, and generally your outlook in life, dictates, by power of attraction, what comes to you in the end. Ultimately contributing to a great dining experience.
The extra mile – the unexpected, pleasant surprises, the proverbial je ne sais quoi. Whether exerted by the staff or by serendipity. The mint upon presentation of the bill. The warm and sincere ‘thank you’. Unexpected presentation. Unique sea salt from Sicily that adds just the right sweetness to that salad. Long lost friends walking in to find you there. The knowing wink of an understanding server. Complimentary refill when you spill your drink. A high chair for the tot. Coloring books and crayons for the hyperactive rug rats. An extra dinner jacket kept in the cloak room just in case you ruin yours. Super glue at hand in case you break your stilettos. The extra glub of rich pungent garlic sauce just because you asked for it to smother the shawarma.
Mind you, I never mentioned anything that would make a restaurant great. Wherever you decide to eat out, it is because it was your decision. And your desire for the adventure of new discoveries, or the comfort of familiarity. This article lists what I believe would contribute to what a great dining experience should be. What would your list include? Think about it. Really reflect while you sit back and enjoy that perfect cappuccino. ‘What is it that makes a great dining experience for me?’.