I'm always flattered when someone asks me for a restaurant recommendation, but then a sense of responsibility rushes in and reminds me that my opinions won't necessarily be the same as the next person's. If it's someone I know, I'll usually make a few suggestions and ask for feedback on their experience if they go anyplace I've recommended.
|Mezze Plate - Papa Zuzu's - Mt Pleasant, SC
When I'm selecting a place to eat, especially when I'm traveling outside my home city, I do my homework first. Consumer review sites such as Urbanspoon give me an idea what type of experience I'm in for, as well as what's good, what to avoid.
|Hibachi Chicken - Shiki - Mooresville, NC
Home or away, I do have a few standard criteria upon which I rate a restaurant. They are based on my personal preferences. I'd love to hear what you look for in a good restaurant experience as well.
THE FOODIs the concept at all original? Is it fresh? Properly cooked? Is it real food, or did they rip open a plastic bag of sauce, drizzle it on some frozen protein, plate it with frozen veg medley and heat it in the micro?
|Jibneh - 13 Gypsies - Jacksonville, FL
Are the ingredients locally sourced, and does the menu change with the seasons' bounty? A plastic covered menu is an early indicator to me that the food might be... institutional. I'm leery of those "glamour shots" of food on the menu. Put those on your website to lure me in. Once I'm there, let me imagine how the food is going to look, and be pleasantly surprised when it exceeds my expectations, not the other way around.
THE AMBIANCEHere's where it gets a little subjective. I don't go for starched and formal. I seek out spots where I a feel welcome and comfortable - as if I'm visiting a friend (who happens to be a chef) in their home.
|The Blue Fish -Jacksonville, FL
Similarly, cleanliness is essential, but I've eaten in places that were neat as a pin inside and out where the food was just one step above Alpo. I like a clean dining room, but my number one pet peeve in restaurants continues to be staff vacuuming or sweeping the floor while I'm eating nearby. If I can hear you sweeping, the particles you are stirring up are most likely going to make their way into my food. Let fallen french fries lie until the section is closed.
Am I comfortable in the room? Are the chairs, tables, etc. clean and in good repair? Is there an off-putting odor? (Out the door, pronto. I've learned that lesson.)
|Spinach Pizza - Libretto's - Jacksonville, FL
I also consider the crowd. Are my fellow diners young, older? Hip? Conservative? What's their general mood? I like a diverse crowd, it tells me there's something to appeal to everyone here. When I'm searching for a good representation of cultures other than my own, I consider the ethnicity of the diners as well as the staff. If you're eating Mexican food and the other diners are Mexican, you know it's because they've found a taste of Mexico on the plate. If the language of the table talk around you matches the ethnicity of the place, you may be on to something.
THE SERVICEAm I greeted soon after entering? Does someone acknowledge my quest for a seat? Will the wait be long, and if so, what are my options? Did the staff ask about seating preference? Did they honor my request for a light, sunny table?
|Danny and Molly Armonyard - Owners
Bangkok City - Buckeye Lake, OH
In my opinion, great service may help me accept a less than stellar meal, but bad service can't be helped by good food. If you put me in a bad mood before the food comes, how am I going to enjoy it?
Does the proprietor, GM or chef visit the front of the house, or do they lurk out of sight? If I'm a regular, do they greet me by name?
So that's pretty much it. If this system works for you, use it. If not, use whatever does. And if you want to discuss who makes the best tacos, pizza, Thai, seafood, barbeque or sandwiches in town, I'm your gal! INCIDENTALLY - all the pics in this post represent favorite foods and places that were recommended TO me by friends and family! THANK YOU ALL for each and every suggestion - and keep 'em coming!