What to look for When Choosing a Restaurant

As an individual that has managed for one of the best restaurateur’s in the country (Brendan Sodikoff – Chicago), and one of the greatest chef’s in our country (Gavin Kaysen – Minneapolis), what do I look for when deciding where to spend my money on a given day/night?

1.      Is this restaurant really hot right now?

 If it is, then I’m not calling to make a reservation for 4 at 7PM on a Friday (obvious).  But usually, I’m very eager to try these restaurants as there’s a reason why they’re so hot.  They’re really freaking good!

Hopping in to one of these “hot” restaurants late night on the weekends or right as they open is the way to go.  No reservation?  Bar seating is perfect.  Is it just me, or is bar seating the best seat in the house? 

Restaurants usually have a waiting system of some kind.  Even if it’s not advertised.  Just pop in and talk to the host (—>previous post, how to speak with a host: https://bit.ly/2OgvboC)

 2.       What do I want out of my first experience with a restaurant?

 When I go to a restaurant, I want the full experience.  I want the experience to go slowly.  I want the attention of everyone and everything around me. 

Now, the server should give every guest their undying attention…but they can’t do that on a busy night during a busy rush.  It’s just not feasible. 

The first time I go to a restaurant, I’m dropping in on a Wednesday and grabbing a seat at the bar, or any table they may have open for me.  This will give me an authentic experience, and one that I can control a little bit more.  By that I mean, I can ask more questions, and maybe even grab the chef, and have a conversation with him/her. 

 My second time through is different.  Now that I know more of the character of the place, now I want to see it in action.  I want to feel the energy.  I don’t want the server to stay at my table those extra two minutes to respond to my questions.  Get going and get to those tables that haven’t been greeted yet!

 3.       What am I looking for once I’m seated?

 That water glass better be filled in two minutes.  No, one minute.  No, 30 seconds.  No…Just get to the table and fill the water glass.  There’s no easier way for a restaurant to welcome a guest, then to have someone, ANYONE, walk up to the table, give a simple hello, fill water glasses, maybe answer one or two questions, and get going to wherever it was you need to get to. 

 Next, I want the smell, the feel, the light, and the sound to be on point.  I want it to collaborate with what I’m reading from the menu.  If it’s light Mediterranean food with shell fish, I want the atmosphere to be airy, light, and crisp.  If it’s ramen, I love hip-hop, low lights, and a basement feel to it (harking back to my first ramen experience in NYC standing in line at 2AM for something I knew nothing about).  If it’s a burger shop, do whatever you want.  Probably not light jazz though…

Next, server.  How are ya?  I want info.  I want positive reinforcement that I made the right decision to come and dine with the restaurant that night. 

From then on, it’s a timing game.  It doesn’t have to be solely about the drinks and the food getting to the table.  The front of house staff can do wonders for passing the time in a seamless way, even though they know things are taking forever.  It can also have the opposite effect.  There’s a special balance between FOH and BOH and how they curate a table with time. 

 4.       The bathroom. 

That’s right.  This is something Brendan taught me.  Go to a new restaurant.  Go to the bathroom.  Is it clean?  Did they put time and effort into making it look nice?  Or did they just throw something together.  When I really like a place, like they pass 1,2, and 3 on my expectation list, I can’t wait to go to the bathroom!  It’s like the suspense of me walking to it (even if I don’t even have to go) is so thrilling!  Then I open the door.  The smell is on point, the trash is empty, it’s clean, the soap is nice, the towels are terrific, there’s artwork in there!?, you get my point.

The food has to be on point.  The service has to be on point.  The aesthetic has to be on point.  Talk about pressure.  When it’s done correctly, it’s a beautiful thing. 

Hope that helps the next time you’re looking to go out and spend some money!