“There is no sincerer love than the love of food” – George Bernard Shaw
Most of you who know me, also know the fact that I love eating out and trying out different cuisines. Then Zomato happened to me about an year ago and foodies like me got a platform to write about their eating out experiences. I have till date written quite a few reviews on Zomato and Tripadvisor covering good restaurants and bad restaurants, street food and fine dining & the famous eateries to the obscure ones. I am no expert in the field and it is very easy to criticize food or restaurants with words, but my reviews are based on the fact how a place treats me as a diner.
A lot of us eat at famous fine dining restaurants which serve great food but at times we still come out feeling dissatisfied or incomplete about the whole experience even after paying a bomb. On the contrary, a lesser known eatery gives you a wonderful experience just by paying attention to small details. On the basis of these I have 3 simple rules which govern most of restaurant experiences and probably yours too.
Rule No. 1 – The Ambiance and the Décor
It is my second nature as an Architect to observe the designing, planning and detailing that has gone into the making of a place. The space needs to be inviting and not intimidating even when the place tries to be snobbish. Restaurants need to know that any diner who can afford to walk into their restaurant and pay for his meal has earned the right to feel comfortable in the place too. Gaudy designs and over the top money spent is a blunder committed by a lot of dining places. Somehow you get a feeling that they are justifying their humongous food rates by shoving expensive décor on your face. Context of the restaurant is another important factor which I feel is completely ignored. Unless you are an eatery which serves everything that a diner can fancy, you have to have a concept to your place which reflects the experience one can expect. Seating should be done in context and if you are a place which boasts of privacy then extra care should be taken that the next table or the waiters cannot eavesdrop onto a guest’s conversation. Consequently, this doesn’t give any other restaurant the right to have tables stacked next to each other like a food court. Lighting plays an important role and I have seen 8/10 places get it wrong. In fact Vir Sanghvi once said, if the lighting is not good enough for you to read the Menu, you should stand up and leave the place immediately. I may not be so harsh, but we all have experienced too harsh or too dim a light and there is nothing we can do about it mostly because the staff is as clueless as you.
If I was to give a rating out of 10 to a restaurant, the ambiance and décor for me would carry 20% weightage to the overall experience.
Rule No. 2 – Service
All of us are familiar with the service charge (not service tax) which 90% of the restaurants have started are charging us in the recent years. Now, a service charge is not service tax. Service tax goes to the government and should be levied on the food labor component. However, Service charge is actually the Tip which goes into the pocket of the restaurant management and which is disbursed among the staff. This service charge can be anywhere between 5 – 15% and most people (including me) never dispute it, though we have a right to. My point here is, if you are demanding a Service charge (Tip) from me, you might as well give impeccable service. I am all in favor of tipping the staff, but only if I get a good service from them, otherwise no matter how good the food, a bad serviced restaurant makes the experience nightmarish. Service is all about training the staff, educating them about the cuisine they are serving, making them understand the rules of engagement and how to build a relationship with the diner. Blank looking, confused staff or a waiter who repeats scripted lines like a customer care executive can damage the reputation of the restaurant beyond repair. In a recent incident involving a famous pub in Gurgaon, we all witnessed how bad service and rude management became the downfall of the place.
As a diner, my experience starts from the time I call in to make a reservation to the host guiding me to my table, from the server handing over the menu to the point where he gets the bill. Small details, like the waiter being around when you need him to not being overzealous and hovering around your table, make the difference. I have seen places serving ordinary food, totally redeeming them with impeccable service & vice versa.
Service for me carries enough weightage for me to decide whether to dine at a place or not and in the overall rating I would give it a 30% share.
Rule No. 3 – Food
Last, but by no means the least, is the food. Food is what we foodies seek and good food is what makes us go back to a place again and again. Having grown up in Delhi, which by far is the city of foodies, food is what makes my world go round. Good food makes or breaks my day. Delhites celebrate, socialize, network, conduct business over food. Delhi has a vast range of food, starting from the Roadside van (food truck) to the Dhaba (Shack), from fast food joints to fine dining 5 star eateries, from quaint little bakeries to multi-cuisine buffets, we love our food.
Most of these restaurants serve good food as the product is what drives the place. A place short changing a diner, or not providing you value for money is sure to be doomed. The value one expects at a restaurant is directly proportional to the quality of food it serves. For example, Butter chicken, the staple diet of the people of Delhi, is available from a roadside Dhaba to high end fine dining restaurants. A lot of restaurants commit the mistake high pricing it under the pretext of a high end experience and end up losing in comparison to a better product served by a smaller eatery. My suggestion, always give the guest value for money solely based on the product you are serving which is your food.
People have traveled the world and tried various cuisines in today’s times. We get world cuisines available right in our city now and the curious foodie is always inclined to try them out. The result is 50-50 in a lot of cases, some places disappoint you and some do exceed your expectations. My observation, always read the “user” reviews on the food and recommended dishes before you try out a new place with a new cuisine.
Food for me carries the most weightage of 50% in the overall experience. A lot of things about a restaurant can be overlooked if the food they serve is awesome.
My network of friends and I love food and love to talk about it too. We all follow the mantra “We Live to Eat” and have small but extremely well informed group of foodies who take pride in being a foodie. Websites like Zomato have given us a platform and also the inspiration to showcase our passion for food and it has definitely been an enriching experience to express our love for eating out in words. I do certainly hope these 3 rules also contribute to your overall dining experience.