Both before and after the height of the current pandemic, my wife and I frequented area restaurants practically every night. Even when we all practiced social distancing to a tee, we had certain restaurants where we felt safe dining there because of how they positioned the tables and whether face coverings were required. We have certain criteria that guide us in deciding where to go on a given afternoon for lunch or evening for dinner, or even for an early dinner while abandoning lunch. The strongest barometer for how we judge a restaurant has always been one thing: consistency.
As long as I know what to expect, and am not disappointed, I’m a happy camper. There are even restaurants we visit where we know we will not find great food offerings, but where we know in advance what it will be like, and that the restaurant will deliver the same thing night after night.
There are many facets to the restaurant business and, to be sure, it can be a very complicated and challenging undertaking. But those facets that are the most important to us, and which need to be very consistent, are these:
Recipes – Most restaurant owners will preach the sermon about the recipe being the same regardless of who is in the kitchen. Not so. There are several local establishments where we order the same dish for lunch, only to experience wide ranging tastes depending on who is in the kitchen. The sauces differ, the temperatures differ, the presentations differ. That is a turnoff.
Service – The pandemic has made it more difficult to staff restaurants adequately because it is impossible to predict the size of the expected crowd or even how many staff members will be available to work on a given day. Even if the food is memorable, if there is no one to deliver it to your table before it freezes or gathers dust the experience will not sit well with the guests.
Portion Sizes – Have you noticed even before the onslaught of the pandemic that portion sizes have shrunk, or that some of the side orders have been unbundled and are priced separately? One establishment on the top of our list of favorites, without notice, reduced the portion sizes of certain dinner meats and the change was quite noticeable. What this really does is increase the price of the food because now a smaller portion is the same price as previously. To compound the sin, some owners will also increase the price of the dish simultaneously. That would even make a priest blush.
Wine – We have been known to watch a bottle of wine evaporate at a fine dining restaurant, but the price never does. There are a few restaurants we really like where we feel that the wine prices are abusive. We have purchased enough wine during our lives to have a good feel for what is fair and what is gouging. We hesitate frequenting places where we find inflated pricing, particularly for wines. An example is two restaurants, one north of our home and one south, offering the same Pino Grigio. At one restaurant the price is $50 a bottle; the other, $150. Ouch!
I also have a recommendation to all restaurants: you would generate considerably more income if you served cocktails in less than ten minutes after they have been ordered because it would allow time for a second order!
Finally, and before I beat this horse to death, there is the case of the Presentation. This is what I refer to as the lost art. There are several local restaurants where it looks like the food was dropped on the plates with a pitchfork. It turns your stomach before you even taste it. Compounding this disaster, some places must have a policy that if you give the customer twice the amount of food that a horse can eat, they won’t complain about quality or presentation. Wrong.
Members of our family have owned restaurants on the east and west coasts of our country, so we understand how tough a business it really is. But that is what they chose to do and, as consumers, we have the right to judge the results as they affect us.
Bon Appetit !