“When are you going to open a restaurant?!”
I usually disappoint these people with:
“Almost certainly never.”
I love to cook and love feeding people, but I don’t really think running a restaurant is for me. It would mean working incredibly long hours, rarely getting to see my family, and, frankly, I would probably fail at it.
More importantly though, I don’t see how I could add any real value to the world with a restaurant.
The second most popular question I get from readers and friends is:
“Can you recommend any good restaurants?”
Again, I usually don’t have a very long list. Betsy and I go out to eat like once or twice a month.
In general, I think most restaurants aren’t great and aren’t worth the cost of admission.
For this post, I thought it might be fun to work through the actual criteria I look for when considering if a restaurant is really worth going to or not.
Here are ten questions I try to ask before going to a restaurant. If you can answer most of these correctly, then the restaurant is probably worth a shot!
It’s important to note that I’ve eaten at places that answer incorrectly to all of these questions. I’m not trying to be high and mighty by asking them. They are just the questions I ask when determining if a restaurant is actually good.
Q1: Does the restaurant have a drive-through?
If the restaurant has a drive through, I’ll never recommend it to anybody. That means that they can prepare the food in just a few minutes and they value speed and convenience over anything else.
I rarely go out to eat to get a fast meal. If I want a fast meal, I cook a quesadilla at home. I go out to eat to relax and try new things.
Q2: How many items are on the menu?
Good restaurants don’t try to do everything. Good restaurants focus on a few dishes and make them exceptionally. If the menu is six pages long, you can almost bet that they are taking shortcuts. It’s just impossible for a kitchen to make that much stuff fresh.
Look for places that do just a few dishes and you’ll probably be better off.
Q3: Do they have something you’ve never seen before?
I love restaurants that are trying new dishes and flavors. If there isn’t at least one dish on the menu that I’ve never seen before, then they aren’t really trying.
Q4: Do they have a host/hostess?
Good restaurants know how important it is to greet your guests. Hosts keep the place organized and also are a clue that the place is busy enough to need someone at the front.
If the restaurant relies on servers to greet guests, that’s pretty iffy.
Q5: Are the drinks good?
If the place serves drinks, I sometimes will just go have a drink at the bar before going to eat there. If the restaurant takes the time to develop a good drink menu, then it’s a good sign that they care about the details.
It also means that, at a minimum, you can drink until the food tastes good. Kidding. Kind of.
Q6: Can you see the kitchen?
Good restaurants have nothing to hide. In fact, they have plenty to show off. If the kitchen is behind two swinging doors that you can’t see into, that’s not a great sign.
Q7: Is the owner a chef?
This might be a bit tricky to find out, but red flags go up for me when at least one owner isn’t a chef. If the owner is a chef, you’ll probably have a better chance that the restaurant cares about the food they put out and not just about the dollars.
Q8: Do they change their menu?
Is the menu the exact same all year? Do they ever have specials or new dishes?
If the answer is no then it means the chefs have probably lost their passion and are just pushing out stuff. Chefs that love to cook get inspired by the seasons and change menus regularly to reflect new trends or just to try new things.
Q9: Do they make hard things from scratch?
There are some things that are hard to do in a restaurant environment and if the place in question takes the time to do them, then it is a good sign that they really care about the food they put out. Stuff like baking fresh bread, making homemade pastas, and curing their own meats probably means you are in for a good meal.
Q10: Do they work with local farms?
Restaurants that take the time to source local ingredients are the ones that are going to be making stuff fresh and putting a lot of care and time into dishes. I don’t care if every single ingredient is local, but having stuff on the menu that is grown around the vicinity of the restaurant means that it’s super-fresh and in season.
What I don’t ask…
I don’t think price necessarily equates to quality. I’ve been to great restaurants that only sell $3 tacos.
While I do read reviews of places online before going, I don’t put a lot of weight in them. I’ve been to places with horrible online reviews and been pleasantly surprised. The reverse is also true.
I don’t judge a restaurant based on website. Most restaurant websites are just awful.
What are your questions?
What are some questions you ask about a restaurant before going there? What are your huge red flags?! Leave a comment!
Awesome diner photo by Alex Rabb.