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Do you believe you can judge a restaurant better than others?

post #1 of 28
Thread Starter 
I believe I can. Today I went to a "best of" place. It's a soup and sandwich place.

$4 for a cup of too salty soup out of a bag.

$6 for a two slices of ham and one slice of American swiss cheese food on an underbaked sandwich roll. Shredded lettuce and two thin slices of tomato.

Give me a break. Seriously one wonders how these places stay in business.
post #2 of 28
I agree, Kuan. I think people raised on manufactured food gravitate towards that sort of thing. I had a similar experience this weekend. Sweet Tomatoes is supposed to be a magnificent salad bar. When I first visted one some seven years ago, there were salads of all types. I went for the first time since then this weekend. The salad bar has become a run-of-the-mill Sysco type. People still rave even though it's a pile of iceberg lettuce and some bottled ranch dressing. Complete deterioration, but fits.

My sister came to visit me and said that, to her, ambience was more important than the food at a restaurant. She was willing to accept mediocre food to sit in, for example, the Rainforest Café. I took her instead to a place called the Havana Café, which is completely different. She said she had never tasted food like that before, ever. (I haven't seen my sister in many, many years, btw) People who have grown up on Campbell's soup at home are sure to choose the overly-salted, bagged version in a restaurant.
post #3 of 28


Whatever the price, you can tell when a place doesnt care and there just plain greedy and you dont go back. too soon they'll find no-one's coming back.
Sometimes though, like our recent dinner at a local french place, tried for the first time, it's okay, but it's screaming at you what could make it fantastic. Not talking about the food, that was good. The whole dont give a *** attitude was enough for us not to bother again.
Folk like to feel a wee bit special when theyre out. Afer making an effort to get poshed -up, you expect some of the same from the restaurant. Not talking about being fawned over by sycophantic crawly waiters, but cordiality... a smile and a pleasant attitude goes a long way.
When i use waiting staff the first rule is smile. Even if you want to kick them ...SMILE and give them their moment.
To Close:- Theres way too much greed out there in our business... no need for it. END OF.
"If we're not supposed to eat animals, why are they made of meat?" Jo Brand
"If we're not supposed to eat animals, why are they made of meat?" Jo Brand
post #4 of 28
I'm currently suck working at a place like this.

$5 (after taxes) gives you
-usually a freshly baked kaiser that we get in the mornings, I try not to keep kaisers for more then 2 days unless I'm expecting to do lots. With 4 slices of either: roast beef, smoked turkey, fake salami, or ham plus 1 slice of processed cheese, smeared with a pesto mayo.

But I love our pizzas now, we use to do 22' pizzas, sliced into 6 pies, each portion is cut in half for easier eating. A pepperoni slice would set someone back around $3. We now do 7' personal sizes and jumped the price by $1 and even in my eyes, they're sooooo not worth it.

$4minimum (before taxes) grants someone an 8oz bowl of whatever salad we prepack for outside. The price varies but its $3.99 starting.

Now that a few people have left, I've been working on improving the prepacked sandwiches like by not stock piling in bread like the previous idiots did or not using lettuce that only god knows when it was delivered. Unfortunately, theres only so much I can do since we all have to stick to these company approved recipes and standards.
post #5 of 28
My wife worked for 12 years in a restaurant chain of about 27 units (she was head of administration, not in operations) but the operations partner said repeatedly that you could get a pretty good fix on a restaurant by how clean the glass was. The front doors, the windows, the partitions, the sneeze guards, and whatever else.

If they weren't clean, there were probably a lot of other places that weren't clean, too. And, it indicated a general lack of attention to details that probably extended to the food.

The owners were always haunted by the knowledge that if a customer had a bad experience for ANY reason, they would NEVER come back, and would happily tell all their friends about it.

It's a tough business.

Mike :rolleyes:
travelling gourmand
travelling gourmand
post #6 of 28
My check list is:
First, I will go back if I felt I was treated as an ACTUAL customer.

In pricey restaurants,
(in a similar vein of thought as MikeLM) my list of items I look for other then the ones already mentioned is:
Cleanliness of the bathrooms and attention to decor in the lavatory.
The way the coffee cream or milk is presented
the way sugar is presented
the quality of the linens.

My biggest turnoff these days is paying 1/4 (or more) the price of my main course for a simple coffee. Sometimes a coffee in a family restaurants goes for $2.50 or $3 for a meal that's $12. On vacation we went to a Rainf0re$t café, the meal was way over priced for the quality then we got charge $5 per coffee that tasted lousy! In a very polite way, I told the waitress that the restaurant should fire the person that makes the coffee. She took the charge ($10) off the bill, made a new pot herself and asked us to give it a second try. It still tasted lousy (must be fair trade coffee) but at least we felt like a customer.

Luc H
I eat science everyday, do you?
I eat science everyday, do you?
post #7 of 28
Huh!? WTF does that mean? Are you suggesting that Fair Trade coffee is inferior to regular coffee. What does Fair Trade have to do with the quality of coffee?

post #8 of 28
Ok Shel,

I am filled with remorse for such a cheap shot comment. I regret it.

First, the Rainforest Café pride themselves to serving fairtrade coffee and the like.
I'll be honest but I have tried to exercise my influence as a responsible consumer by purchasing Fair trade coffee. more often then none I throw the stuff away because it does not taste good. I've bought some expensive stuff for my wallet also (which is probably not a lot compared to others).

Can you advise me on names and regions for Fair Trade coffee?

(for those who may think my taste of coffee is influenced by the fact I am used to drinking robusta laced coffee that is untrue. I know coffee and I buy only Arabica whole beans and mill them myself before brewing. I even make my own espresso blend and mill to a powder with sifting screens)

Luc H.
I eat science everyday, do you?
I eat science everyday, do you?
post #9 of 28
Hi Luc,

Just like with other products, there's good coffee and poor coffee, and often the difference is in the preparation. As you probably know - and which is probably the case in your area as well as mine - coffee comes as green beans which have to be roasted to bring out their flavor. Poor roasting, as well as poor storage, can reduce the quality of what's in the cup just as much as picking poor beans (unripe, damaged by rot or mildew, etc.), and that can be the case with Fair Trade coffee as well as regular coffee.

I am far from an expert on such matters. When I purchace coffee I do so only from a few vendors that I know roast their beans to my liking and who buy quality beans to start with. I only buy Fair Trade and Organic coffees. And while I'm no expert on coffee production, I am an expert of what tastes good ( to me, of course).

I will look into some specifics for you, but you might start with this source - a local place that sells mail order over the internet - which has one of the largest choice of beans I've come across and LOTS of good information about coffee and beans and sources. I think you'll enjoy the site - it's very information intensive.

Home Coffee Roasting Supplies -Sweet Maria's

This is one of the sellers I buy from: Equal Exchange

post #10 of 28
yep....some of my bestest friends are restaurant reviewers and we dish on restaurants.

Most of the time I dine at independantly owned places, who make the majority of their food inhouse. A great percentage of them buy locally raised too.
cooking with all your senses.....
cooking with all your senses.....
post #11 of 28
I am far from being an expert in these matters, but I do find it a bit odd to be charged for a glass of water. Especially since the place in question has been leaning toward an out of the can sauce place--they used to make their own sauces, and it was always fun to try the sauce of the day pasta. Now their sauces have no real flavor-just seems like you're eating a bowl of goo. Could be a supermarket sauce only worse. Somehow I just don't feel like paying a high price for that. And I don't like being charged for a glass of water with a meal. Guess I won't be going back!
más vale tarde que nunca
más vale tarde que nunca
post #12 of 28
Thread Starter 
Hey there roboteacher. :) Don't be such a stranger btw ;)
post #13 of 28
Hey Kuan-This has been a really BUSY school year so far-no time to do more than read an occasional forum! Chef Talk is always fun to visit, though!
más vale tarde que nunca
más vale tarde que nunca
post #14 of 28
I can't say I'd make a better reviewer necessarily, as I fully admit I don't have the academic background to know, for instance, what are the ingredients of a classic sauce Espagnole, or the traditional ingredients that make a tagine a tagine.

My local newspaper, the Milwaukee Journal-Sentiel recently lost its long-time reviewer, Dennis Getto, to a lung ailment. Since then, we've had no reviews, only articles like today's about local menus- the ones put into patrons' hands. I have no idea if they're going to replace Dennis or not, but they need to, and soon. Dennis did have culinary training and that's what made his reviews credible in my eyes. I didn't always agree with him, but he had credibility.

As for customers' reviews, I do think I know enough to make good layman's judgements. I drive my husband nuts when I try to deconstruct dishes and send the wait staff to the kitchen to ask what spices were used in a dish. :rolleyes:
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***It is better to ask forgiveness than beg permission.***
post #15 of 28
I think I can put a twist on Kuan's post. He and I are in the upper midwest (MN) and it seems like most but not the peoples tastebuds only recognize salt. If I had a nickel for every person I've heard in the last 6 months say some dish is to spicy for them...and yet I taste the same dish and my immediate reaction is wow thats salty.

I know a couple that uses no seasoning much less spices on their food, no salt no pepper no anything. She prides herself on being a good cook, I'd rather eat school paste.

Unfortunately here in the midwest Taco Bell is real mexican and the local place run by a latino family is too spicy and ignored. My two cents are as long as pablum like taco **** are hyped as great food the american public will keep buying it. Me, I keep going to the hole in the wall propieteter run places where the owner really does care about the food.
post #16 of 28
Yes, smalltruck! Exactly what I'd like to do. Unfortunately, in SE MO-my part of it anyway--these places don't last long enough for me to get started on the menu! I keep hoping for a small place that has really great food that will last. Doesn't seem to happen, though. We had a really great Indian restaurant-went out-couple years later they reopened in another location-this time they were trying to please the populace so they went to total buffet with offerings from places like England, Italy-you catch my drift-no more great Indian food-God, I love that stuff. The Indian offerings are now bland . . . and people think they are spicey-catch my drift?
más vale tarde que nunca
más vale tarde que nunca
post #17 of 28
To be honest, I really don't think so.

I think I'm far too susceptible to suggestion, and I don't know enough yet about food and wine.

I'm trying to learn, though. I've been really lucky to have had some pretty amazing dining experiences lately (thanks to the current SO, mostly). But still....I read Ruth Reichl and I really envy her palate. It seems to have come so naturally to her.
post #18 of 28
It's the same in my area. My husband and I have gotten pretty good at judging restaurants, though -- we've been to a bunch of new, opening establishments in the last few years and the three we really loved wound up getting high marks in the paper, zagat, etc. Unfortunately one closed down anyway -- an Indian joint (why do they keep getting the short end of the papadum?). Best garlic and cheese naan I've ever eaten.
post #19 of 28
I like to think my girlfriend and I can judge pretty good. One thing we have going is we can definitely compare a lot as we eat out quite a bit (at least in 2007 we did!)

sometimes 3-4 times a week.

aside from that I travel a lot, europe, asia, and eat great food all over the reviews are based a lot of comparison.

Since my interest in cooking my own at home....I have learned to review not only by comparison, but a lot better by taste. I too went to a kind of "best of" place yesterday for lunch, same thing, soup and a sandwich place, not quite as cheap....and we both felt ourselves reviewing the food more so for specific tastes rather than comparison. Cajun chicken soup with no chicken.....french dip on not french bread....french onion soup that I can cook better.

I am not sure if I'm just being a brat and too picky or what.

one thing you have to keep in mind is best of...a lot of factors come into play, not just food. Atmosphere, price, location, cuisine, staff, etc...I mean, Grays Papaya is a "best of" restaurant, but for 20 cents more I can get a much better tasting hotdog!! Same with the "Grease Trucks" of New Brunswick, NJ....or White Rose System......

take white rose, a place that is known for burgers, like a large white castle.....anyone would say the hamburger has waaaay to many not cooked well onions with what seems like the crappiest grade of ground "meat" i've ever see it as a great greasy breakfast!

post #20 of 28
was it voted "BEST OF" in some newspaper campaign? Those campaigns are a

I LOVE eating in small family (clean bathrooms operated hole in the walls. Love the coffee there, great service, great food great atmosphere.

I do admit that I've not been out to eat like this in like forever..since I left ny in '99...places where you didn't have to order anything...they just asked you what were you in the mood for or they would tell you that today the cook's chilli was out of this word and they knew you liked your chilli with cheese.



Now, you go to these holes in the walls in Miami and you have to get into an argument with the server about how you didn't order a double order of plantains and you're not paying for it just because she put 2 orders on one plate and a single order comes with only 3 slices of plantain!

( yes, just happened the other day when I went to have a "CALENTADO" that's a Columbian breakfast...rice and red beans with a fried egg on top...I asked for a side order of sweet
Food may bring us together, but a CAKE makes it a PARTY!!
Food may bring us together, but a CAKE makes it a PARTY!!
post #21 of 28
It really bugs me that the vast majority of people seem to have been brought up on pre packaged food and ready made meals that they don't know real food when they taste it, they actually prefer what they are used to. There is a well known chain restaurant close to me which is truly awful, they even advertise on their menu that their tomato sauce is a brand name from a jar. It is run by children, the manager only looked about 18. When you walk in you know its going to be bad but you think "I won't complain" because ;

(a) they dont care
(B) the apology will be parrot fashion and insincere
(c) you will get another meal but you will be agitated and will not enjoy it
(d) your second plate will be as bad as your first

Anyhow this restaurant is around 100 covers and it is packed almost every night because it is a brand name. Its a real shame that there are so many good quality independant restaurants up and down the country losing out because people do not know what good food should taste like. A customer was complimenting me on my lamb shank one night , she said "It was really lovely it was better than Iceland's" :rolleyes: You might need to be in the UK to find that amusing. :lol:
post #22 of 28
That is very terrible, how do they sell at that price?
post #23 of 28
I agree that best-of places don't become famous for food necessarily, but a gimmick, location, fashion, etc.

I remember going to Carnegie Deli in ny thinking "I'm really gonna have a NY experience!" only to be sorely dissappointed. My friends ordered pastramis and corned beef sandwiches etc that were piled 6inches high. I ordered a grilled cheese but instead got this weird 6 inch high sandwich of 5 slices of bread with 4 slices processed cheese in between each bread slice. It was worth taking a picture of but it couldn't be eaten. There was nothing remotely resembling a grilled cheese about it. And those yucky pickles they give you???? UGH!

"You are what you eat, so don't be fast, cheap, easy, or fake."


"You are what you eat, so don't be fast, cheap, easy, or fake."

post #24 of 28

If I can't judge, who can?

I don't know if I can judge a restaurant "better" than others. I'm not a professional chef or even a good cook. But I know what tastes or feels good to me.

While I do think that lots of people are in the wrong when they prefer individually wrapped ORANGE american cheese to a nice smelly brie, if any given eater isn't allowed to judge, who is?

(But, of course, I'll probably consult Zagat's or something similar when it comes time to pick a new restaurant!) ;-)
post #25 of 28
Some places aren't very consistent. Might be great one day and just ok the next. Sometimes the ingredients even vary depending on who's making it. That's not a good way of doing business if you ask me.
post #26 of 28

Bit of a rant - gotta get it off my chest

I thought I could rely on the reputation of a restaurant we went to last weekend. Great location, views over a riverfront marina, lovely decor, great rep, good website.

The FOH people made us feel very welcome, not overattentive or annoying or condescending, very knowledgable about the food and wine, they were equally as attentive to our teenage children as they were to us. No fawning - no hovering. All very good. Place was warm, music lively enough but not deafening. Just right.

Starters from the kitchen were lovely. Fresh, tasty, well presented. The fresh oysters were the best by far I've ever had. Deserts were wonderful too.

But - here come the main courses. My husband and son will eat anything pretty much (lucky me!), so it didn't fuss them. But my daughter and I are blessed (not a blessing on this occasion) with better palates. The combinations of food were simply WEIRD. I had a beautifully cooked (blue) Angus beef steak - but it was lukewarm. The potato puree- also lukewarm, and oddly grainy. Then they added QUINCE on the potato (felt like cooked strawberry but weird taste), and a quince salad-type thingy on the side. There was a very nice side of sauteed spinach - that was very good, but then also an overly sweet beetroot side as well. The angus and the spinach got eaten but the others stayed on the plate.

Heck, if it were venison I was eating - yeah maybe the sweet sides. Not with Angus. No, never! Plates were hot, food was only just luke warm. I won't even dare describe what they did with my daughter's salmon.

It was a high end restaurant, priced as such. But I don't know what someone was thinking with the combinations.

We'd been looking forward to it for a long while as a celebration, not of anything in particular, just the fact that we all deserved a good night out and some very good food and good dining experience.

We won't be back. Guess you can't judge a book by its cover. I was glad to get home and cook the next night myself. No, I'm not spoilt, we'd saved for this, but the more we go out to eat, the more we prefer our home cooking.

Or is that just age? :lol:

Ok.... rant over. Glad to get that out. Thanks for listening :)
 Don't handicap your children by making their lives easy.
Robert A. Heinlein

 Don't handicap your children by making their lives easy.
Robert A. Heinlein

post #27 of 28
Gee, what a timely revival of this thread. Saturday the director of the department where my wife works celebrated his 50th wedding anniversary, and treated a number of folks ( like 75 or so ) to a lunch at one of the higher end restaurants in the area. It is a nice place, nestled below the mountains, an expanse of beautiful grounds, ponds with swans, peacocks cavorting about, fashioned in the manner of some French country estate. I bet any Salt Lake folks here can figure out the identity of the place. The staff dresses in somewhat peasant looking costumes, with the women in these, uh, uplifting, low cut outfits - a person I know refers to the place as a Hooters for rich people.

This is like the 4th or 5th time I've been there, always on someone else's dime so far, lucky me. And like all the previous times, the food has been mediocre. The beef filet I had looked good on the plate, must have been close to a pound before cooking, nice grilled crust, sitting in a bed of Bearnaise sauce. Well, it was claimed to be Bearnaise, it was some sort of insipid, nearly tasteless yellowish fluid. The beef wasn't really that bad, not that tough and chewy. For a place with the reputation they have and the prices they charge, you'd expect something more than a mere half step above the neighborhood Sizzler.

One thing I REALLY liked was the little puddle of greenish-gray stuff that came on the side of my wife's salmon. It was a miso - wasabi sauce of some sort. It was quite tasty on my boiled red potatoes. Gee, wasabi with potatoes, think that will ever catch on?

In truth, I should give them some slack and not judge the entire menu on what they have to hand out to 75 people in 15 minutes time in a banquet setting. But the times I've been there with just a group of 3 or 4 or so, the food has still not been that impressive. Nice place to visit, but I don't see any reason to eat there.

Food nourishes my body.  Cooking nourishes my soul.
Food nourishes my body.  Cooking nourishes my soul.
post #28 of 28
Restaurants, especially expensive ones, feel a lot of pressure to provide "original" and "exciting" food. Their guests, want to see comfortably familiar names on the menu. This net result is weirdly inappropriate garniture of the sort to which DC Sunshine was treated. In the words of "Iron Chef" Miyamoto, "Trout ice cream ... With eye balls." Multiply both the likelihood and the weirdness quotients by the restaurant's scenic charms, and its proportion of tourists and "special event" (anniversaries, proposals, birthdays, etc.) customers.

Some dishes are "luxury" because of the cost of their ingredients; some because of the skill required, and other because of the amount of human labor required to make them. A good Bernaise is a little bit of the second and a lot of the third. You can only achieve a perfect levels of total liason and acid-freshness with a process that requires more than 5 minutes of total dedication by one person, done a minute, in quantities too small for a group, but too large for a deuce. Make a dozen eggs worth, hold it in a bain marie and the liaison (a concept that's been taking a bit of a beating around here lately) will start to let go a little. Teamfat got the butter, someone else got the egg.

Places like the one Teamfat described are designed to handle weddings. To the extent that catering is different from restaurant preparation and service, the restaurant patron will suffer.

To my mind, like all of yours, "good" comes before creative or luxurious.

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