When you go out to have dinner, restaurants are usually recommended by word-of-mouth. It is the most reliable form of advertisment for restaurant operators, and diners such as yourself, take it for granted as sound advice from a well-meaning individual. The acid test would be the moment you walk through the threshold. So what do you look for? Here are the top ten signs that the restaurant you walk into is a good choice.
Busy, busy, busy - not necessarily jampacked, although that is an obvious good sign. What I mean is that the wait staff are busy attending to the restaurant, not just engaging in idle talk. We were taught in the industry that there is always something to do in a restaurant. Sort out menus, clarifuy reservations, sweep up the floors, organize the service station, etc. This is one way you can tell they are actively participating in the welfare of its guests and the restaurant.
Lively guests - be it a jampacked restaurant or just a couple of tables, the guests should appear they are enjoying themselves. Do they appear to be engaged in a lively conversation, enjoying the food? How are they like when they leave the restaurant? Happy? Smiles all around?
Up to date menus - that includes the promotions, posters, come-ons, and specials. They should be timely and appropriate to the restaurant. Steer clear of Italian joints that are trying to pass of fish and chips a s a special. This also means the presence of tacky 'value meals'.
Clean bathrooms - as in spotlessly clean. Because it gives you an idea on how the restaurant is conscious of hygiene, be it front-of-house or back-of-house. Good restaurants have bathrooms that are well equipped with guest amenities as well as cleaning supplies.
Hot and cold - Hot food should be hot, and cold food cold. Their dishes should be steaming when laid on the table. Cold beverages should be frosted. Iced tea should be iced, and plates should at least be too warm to the touch.
Attentive staff - you are greeted at the door the moment you walk in. Greeted, not shouted at with a canned 'Good evening'. Attentive staff can read guests, and make menu suggestions well. Not push what needs to sell, but actually order for you and you would be fully satisfied. Bring you a fork the 5 seconds before it drops to the floor. Has a crayon and paper at the ready for fussy kids. Finds any excuse for you not to crane your neck or stand up to find some service. They have to be knowledgeable, not only of the menu, but of the local vicinity as well.
Maintenance - curb appeal works here. If the restaurant frontage seems in good repair, not necessarily brand new, but clean and presentable, chances are the restaurant isn't cutting corners. Furniture and fixtures are always in top condition, floor is maintained, and every piece of equipment is in good and working order.
Ambience - of course it would reflect your present mood. It should be appropriate with what you feel right now. Different elements should be in the same flow as your disposition. The right music, the right noise volume, decor; anything that would appeal to you. If anything is out of sync, you will notice it. And it will grate on your psyche like fingernails on a chalkboard.
Economy of movement - most seasoned restaurants, the more professional ones at least, hire professional staff who enjoy their work. They perform their duties so well and with such fluidity that you barely notice that they're there. No running around like chickens with their heads cut off. Everything they do is deliberate, with a sense of urgency.
Langniappe - they always let you leave with a lasting impression. And they come in different forms, such as the classic mint after dinner, or the leftovers wrapped beautifully in a tinfoil swan. Things that come as a pleasant surprise.
Have I missed anything? Let me know...