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What You Notice at Restaurants


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I'm working on a small project that will focus on what people -- of all ages and walks of life -- look for when they go into an eating establishment. Any type of establishment, from fast-food to white tablecloth. I'm interested in it all -- cleanliness; how good/bad the food is -- the whole nine yards -- what you and your family and friends notice and how they judge a place. Major stuff, and the incredibly minor. I don't need/want specific place names -- just the kind of things you notice when you eat out.

Thanks!

Laurie

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Okay, I'll go first, since I'm here.

First impressions:

Whether a place looks busy or not. Busy = popular. Too busy = off-putting. Will I get a table? Will I get served? Will they have run out of the food I want to order? Not busy at all = What's wrong with this picture, unless it's an off-hour.

Does the place look clean (again, first impressions)? Do the servers look neat and clean?

Does it smell good? I've been drawn to restaurants in other countries by the smells wafting out the doorway. My nose has never steered me wrong. If a fast-food place smells like old oil, I'm outta there!

Is it too noisy for comfort, either from conversation level or loud music? One exception here is dim sum places where I'm accustomed to some din.

Does the staff acknowledge my presence? In a white tablecloth place, this means greeting me at the door. In a fast-food restaurant it means taking my order promptly, not standing there chatting with other workers or disappearing into the back when it's my turn.

Edited to add: I'm a sucker for fresh flowers. I really do believe it adds grace to the ambiance to have a fresh flower arrangement at the entrance of a restaurant, or a bud vase on each table.

Edited by SuzySushi (log)

SuzySushi

"She sells shiso by the seashore."

My eGullet Foodblog: A Tropical Christmas in the Suburbs

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For me the most important thing has to be the smell. If I'm walking along a street and smell amazing food cooking, thats where I'm going to eat. But like Suzysushi if I walk into a place and it smells bad ie old oil, dust, I'm outa there.

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A bad smell is a deal-breaker, but a good smell doesn't necessarily prove anything, because two of the best smells are onions frying and bread baking, and neither of those smells prove that good food is to be had. Fried onions are just an ingredient in other stuff that may be good, bad, or mediocre, and even bread that tastes like cardboard smells great when baking.

Michael aka "Pan"

 

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1. Are the salt and pepper shakers clean or sticky? Full/mostly full or empty? If they're dirty, that's just gross and shows that the servers are slacking off on their side duties and no one in management is paying noticing. (And, yes, I've been a server; I wiped the shakers down daily and ran them through the dishwasher as needed.) If they're empty, again, the servers are not paying attention, and the food is probably not being seasoned appropriately.

2. Is the butter served cold or room temperature? I absolutely hate being served cold butter because then I can't spread it on my bread very easily. The restaurant gets extra points if they serve flavored butter or some other kind of interesting spread.

Rebecca Hassell

Cookin' in Brookland

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scented soap pissed me off. i don't want to smell chemical lavender on my hands as i'm sitting down to eat and drink wine. i've experienced this at every level of restaurant up to and including per se. so yeah, i notice scented soap.

salt and pepper shakers. that's a good one too: they should be functional, and not decorative. which means: sea salt/kosher salt and a peppermill, either upon request or on the table. anything else just gets in the way. i don't like "noise" like that.

Edited by tommy (log)
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I get irked by fancy pants establishments that don't know how to spell the items on their menus. I do like unusual ways of presenting the menu, however - cool papers, nice layout, that kind of thing.

Wandering musicians scare me stupid.

I really dislike being served with a wet wine glass. You know what I mean?

Being greeted with a warm smile always puts me in a great mood, no matter what. I love being greeted as if they're glad to see me, even if it's my first time, even if they're fully loaded and I've failed to make a reservation. It's never any fun showing up at a restaurant and being approached as if I'm an intrusion.

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I second the "irk" on someone mis-spelling a dish on the menu. Shows that they are probably over their head or just don't care about the details.

The key thing to starting the meal off well is the greeting at the door. If I have someone who acts like I'm an intrusion into their "oh so busy" life, it's a bad sign. It is a service industry, and that starts from the first "touch point".

Dishes/cutlery/condiments on the table: I don't want to see anything wet, smudged, crusty etc. I have to pretend that I'm the only person who used them. Traces of previous diner, not good.

Acknowledgement by the waitperson, so you know they know you've been seated at their table.

Refill my water glass when it is half empty, please. Don't make me flag you down for water. It's a simple thing. Likewise, in the better restaurants who have more staff, I love when there's someone invisibly hovering nearby that picks up when something is needed (or if a knife drops on the floor).

Comfortable seating...don't make my a** fall asleep because you had to get the cheap or trendy chairs. If I'm sitting for 90 minutes, there better be some cushion!

If you have light color tablecloths/napkins, please make sure they are not stained. If it is a casual place, make sure the plastic or whatever the top surface of the table is doesn't have sticky residue.

"Only dull people are brilliant at breakfast" - Oscar Wilde

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since I was in restaurant management for so long I tend to notice things that no one else does so I tend to be unfair when judging places.

That being said details are important. If the owner/manager does not care about the faded carpet or thread bare material on the chairs, the stain on the table cloth or the smudges on the glass ware, the chip in the butter dish or the speck on the knife, the un-kempt wait staff or the bedraggled centerpieces then they probably do not care that the walk-in cooler is kept at the proper temperature and the prep sink is clean or that the employees wash their hands or any other number of things that can translate fr/ a disappointing dining experience to an absolutely awful dining experience.

in loving memory of Mr. Squirt (1998-2004)--

the best cat ever.

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I once went to an expensive place for dinner in a high-traffic (and expensive, for me, at the time) resort area. So, this dinner was a special occasion. After being seated, the waiter approached our table and began to introduce himself, etc. In the middle of explaining the dinner specials, he felt compelled to wipe his nose with the back of his hand; thus spinning a glistening thread of mucus which he proceded to stretch for about a foot as he completed his swipe. :sad:

Waiters with excessive mucus. That is one detail that I can do without!

(I know, expensive does not necessarily equal quality, but still . . . )

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Unfortunately, the first thing I look at when I sit down is whether there is lipstick or other gunk on my glass. The last two NYC restos we went to were guilty of this mis-step, ADNY and Ouest. Heck, ADNY replaced my lipstick stricken glass with another, slightly less smudged version.

Really pretty gross....

"It's better to burn out than to fade away"-Neil Young

"I think I hear a dingo eating your baby"-Bart Simpson

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What I look for in a restaurant is the same as what I look for in a mate.

Smell

Cleanliness

Welcoming atmosphere without being fake and

can they cook?! :raz:

Shelley: Would you like some pie?

Gordon: MASSIVE, MASSIVE QUANTITIES AND A GLASS OF WATER, SWEETHEART. MY SOCKS ARE ON FIRE.

Twin Peaks

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I'm big into salt too, and I know if I see small shakers for iodized salt and ancient ground pepper, I'm in trouble. I like a small ramekin of sea salt and a small pepper grinder . . . if anything at all. Those are usually good signs I'm in for a treat. Suzanne Goin at Lucques has it down pat. You get salt and pepper as I just described plus marcona almonds and Lucques olives swimming in fruity olive oil. It's a great table condiment.

R. Jason Coulston

jason@popcling.com

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I second the "irk" on someone mis-spelling a dish on the menu. Shows that they are probably over their head or just don't care about the details.

The key thing to starting the meal off well is the greeting at the door. If I have someone who acts like I'm an intrusion into their "oh so busy" life, it's a bad sign. It is a service industry, and that starts from the first "touch point".

Dishes/cutlery/condiments on the table: I don't want to see anything wet, smudged, crusty etc. I have to pretend that I'm the only person who used them. Traces of previous diner, not good.

I agree with the above, and would add that restrooms are important to me. A dirty restroom is a big turnoff, but an even bigger turnoff is no soap. I have to be able to believe that all workers are washing their hands after using the restroom. And while I understand there might be soap in the work area and the might wash their hands there, I still want soap in the restroom. (Plus, I need to be able to wash my own hands.)

Tammy Olson aka "TPO"

The Practical Pantry

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having run restaurants for many years now, i have many "pet peeves" that while i don't always seek out, if i see them i get annoyed...

1. lightbulbs burnt out

2. debris on the floor

3. dirty/improperly stocked bathrooms

4. lipstick on the glass / chipped glassware

5. bottles facing forward at the bar

6. proper temp of wine

7. when timing is off - food arriving before drinks, etc.

8. when silverware / plateware is missing or not replaced

i'll keep adding more as i think of them...

9. dirty storefront - fingerprints on windows, trash on sidewalk, overflowing ashcan

Edited by dvs (log)
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1. Dirty Bathrooms.

If it is a place I have never been before I will find a way to make a stop in the ladies room before I am seated- and if it is a diaster I will not be eatting there at all. There is no excuse for a disgusting bathroom- esp in upscale places. And it may be a sterotype but if they cannot be bothered to keep the area we see clean what must the back look like?.

2. Wet and/or dirty plates/glassware/flatware etc

I realize I am not the only person to have used said plate/glass etc but is it really to much to ask that it be dry and clean when presented to me?.

3.Sticky/dirty menus

Again this goes back to number #1- but if you don't care that something this small is gross what about the big things.

4. Rude Staff.

I want food not a new best friend. We don't have to become buddy's just don't act like you are being put it by doing your job. I am pretty flexable on this one. All I ask is that service be as prompt as the possible- bearing whatever circumstances may be in place in mind -if the place is slammed it stands to reason that there will probably be some slowness- perfectly understandable and expected. But nothing is worse then feeling like you have to send up flares to get the servers attenion in a next to empty section. Keep my drink refilled without begging, if there is some unforeseen delay with my meal just let me know, don't make me sit there wondering if someone is out fishing for my salmon. And lastly that the server does their part to make sure my order is correct, mistakes do happen- example ordered blackened salmon, got broiled. So long as it is taken care of proptly, no problem. If there is hemming and hawing or attitude then do not expect me to be happy in return.

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If I enter a restaurant and smell that "dirty dish rag" smell, I run for the hills.

If I seem to be sitting at my table forever with menu still in hand and no beverage

that means I have not been helped. IF, as a server, you notice this, and I am

not technically in your section, please at least acknowledge me and let me know

that I will be helped soon.

Silverware should be clean. It doesn't have to be completely spotless, but dried food on a fork is a HUGE turnoff.

Dirty/sticky menus. Yak.

Crumbs on the chair/ booth seat really annoy me! If you're gonna wipe/clean

off the table, why can't you brush off the seats, too?!?! Come to think of it, a

dirty, cluttered floor doesn't impress me either.

A dirty/messy restroom is a BIG CLUE that the kitchen is probably a mess, too.

Some pickier issues:

I know it's not a complete necessity, but I do like to have my salad in a chilled

bowl and my entree on a warm plate.

I really don't like to see smudges or food remnants on the outter rim of the dish.

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All of the above, plus it drives me mad when the menu description doesn't match what's on the plate. If it says there's lavender in the sausage, and that's the whole reason I chose that dish, I'd better be able to taste it. Not just that the kitchen waved an ingredient over the pot just to be able to give it a more interesting name on the menu. More egregious is when some major substitution is made in the kitchen without the server checking with me first. Out of the advertised maitake mushrooms and send me out some criminis instead? Uh, no thanks!

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My number one gripe: Not being acknowleged. I understand that if the place is busy, it can take some time to seat or wait on a person, but it only takes about three seconds to say, "I'll be with you in a moment." It's not that hard. When I feel ignored, I leave.

Dirty floors, glasses, or silverware are incredibly off-putting. If the front of the house is dirty, imagine what the kitchen looks like!

I can tell when you're trying to "up-sell" me. Stop it. I am not a frugal orderer, and that should be evident when I order a glass of wine and an appetizer as soon as you hit my table. No, I don't want any X-treme Fire Ball Fajita Taquitos or Make My Teeth Hurt Sweet Chocolate Goo. Another reason I avoid chains.

If the place smells like sanitizer solution instead of food, that's kind of gross and I don't want any part of it.

Being dead during busy hours is a bad sign. If it's Saturday night at 8pm, and there are only five tables in the place, it's probaby not very good.

Please have regular, understandable hours. There is a place here in town that I have no clue as to how it stays in business. The hours aren't posted, and it always seems to be closed when I want to eat there. I've trying going at peak hours. Closed. Off hours, closed. Yet I'm always hearing people talk about how great the food is. When do they eat there?! I'm beginning to think it's a front for some sort of vague organized crime.

To all restaurant owners: If you have a wine list, make sure your waitstaff understands it and has at least sampled the more popular sellers. I hate asking for a recommendation, and recieving what is obvious utter bullshit from the server. And it's not the server's fault. Make them try the stuff. Teach them about it. It's not that hard. You're just being lazy if you don't.

Another gripe to restaurant owners: Make sure your place is adequately staffed. Having one poor harried server for an entire floor of tables makes you look cheap. And I won't come back.

A petty, but important gripe, re: Bacon. Serve good bacon. It's not that expensive, and I'm not paying money for cheap, thin paltry servings of bacon. Again, another thing that makes you look cheap and makes me not want to patronize you. Same goes for coffee.

-Sounds awfully rich!

-It is! That's why I serve it with ice cream to cut the sweetness!

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Prior to entry - the door handle should be clean and not sticky. I wont finish opening the door.

On entry - welcoming, clean, well-maintained (not threadbare), and with an air of things being in control (calm, even in the face of great bustle).

Things that bug me... pools of darkness from poor lighting. Not being able to get host's attention, obviously broken or worn out things, a feeling of panic in the air, bad smells.

Things that appeal ... warm greeting and smile, communication, clean/tidy/neat/uncluttered, air of competence, flowers, well-groomed host and servers. In an inexpensive place, the candy dispenser should not be full of oxidized candy slowly falling to powder.

On being seated - no stickiness, anywhere. Urgk. Clean silverware etc.

ditto what Abra said about substitutions.

"You dont know everything in the world! You just know how to read!" -an ah-hah! moment for 6-yr old Miss O.

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In addition to most of the things already noted, I also notice WHO is eating and working at the restaurant. Is this a college joint? Is it a bar with food, or a restaurant with a bar? Do the people eating here look happy? Does the waitstaff look happy? This both sets the tone and influences my expectations. If the food measures up to my expectations, I'm likely to leave happy.

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One thing I am quick to notice-- and to be turned off by-- is when the level of workload seems to be very uneven, i.e. some people running their a**es off and others apparently not working. I like a restaurant where there seems to be a steady hum of activity, not a combination of super stressed out servers and a couple of "managers" standing around talking to each other. And if I hear those managers snapping at employees, that's usually about it for me with that restaurant.

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To all restaurant owners: If you have a wine list, make sure your waitstaff understands it and has at least sampled the more popular sellers. I hate asking for a recommendation, and recieving what is obvious utter bullshit from the server. And it's not the server's fault. Make them try the stuff. Teach them about it. It's not that hard. You're just being lazy if you don't.

while we're on this subject, how about a bar list? it's incredilby inconvenient to ask the waitstaff if they have x,y or z behind the bar. why? because probably 8 time out of 10 i get a blank stare back because they have no damn clue. so then they have to go check and then come back before i order because. i mean really, how expensive is it to print out a bar list? i'm not a wine drinker (and really not that much of a drinker, period), but i have to imagine that wine lists would get updated far more often than bar lists.

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5. bottles facing forward at the bar

Please educate me on this. What is the problem with bottles facing forward at the bar? How else will I know what is in them?

"It's better to burn out than to fade away"-Neil Young

"I think I hear a dingo eating your baby"-Bart Simpson

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