Three Things Restaurants Should Get Right

The Critical Insights Double Agent, a professional restaurant critic, is our spy on the front lines.

The Critical Insights Double Agent, a professional restaurant critic, is our spy on the front lines.

We are living in a golden age of dining: People are more food-obsessed than ever and restaurants keep getting better. But there are three things that restaurants can’t (or won’t) stop screwing up.

1. Websites

People come to your website for only a few reasons: To find your hours, phone number, and address; to see your menu; maybe to make a reservation. They do not come to hear smooth jazz or read your “philosophy.” Restaurant websites are the most user-unfriendly websites I can think of, especially in the cell phone age when most devices can’t handle all that fancy design. I can’t tell you how often I can’t find the simplest thing on a restaurant website—hours, for instance. Is it in “About Us”? No, that’s a novel-length bio of the owners. “Contact us”? No, that’s an email form. All the while terrible music blares out at me.

Fix: A simple, non-Flash site with minimal design that offers basic info on the homepage is all you need.

2. Greetings

“Hi, my name is Joe and I’ll be taking care of you this evening. Have you dined with us before?” Sound familiar? Of course it does—it’s the standard welcome in 90 percent of restaurants in America. But, like anything that is formulaic and inauthentic, it isn’t welcoming. It’s lazy and slightly condescending. What is the use of asking: “Have you dined with us before?” The only answer I’ve come up with is that if a customer hasn’t ever been to your establishment then they must be too stupid to understand your incredibly complex concept. Let me guess...small plates? Made for sharing? Dude—it’s 2013, people know how dining out works, and how to read a menu. And if they have a question about it and your server is friendly and available, they’ll ask. No monologues necessary.

Fix: Perhaps, instead of making your servers learn a script, spend more time teaching them about the food and wine so they can engage properly with customers. And also teach them to leave customers alone who obviously don’t want conversation. As for a welcome, a simple: “Hi there, how are you this evening?” is a good place to start.

3. Following trends

Small plates. Mixology. Farm-to-table. These are the pervasive bandwagons everyone feels they must jump on. The problem is many attempt trends before they understand them, or without anyone who can execute them. It’s all well and good to say “local” and “sustainable” on your menu, but unless your chef is truly dedicated to that philosophy, meaning he goes to markets and cultivates relationships with farmers, your guests will smell a rat. And unless you have a talented bartender who trained somewhere legitimate (and no, that waitress who has “a passion for drinking” doesn’t count), you’re wasting your time with craft cocktails.

Fix: It is okay to be who you are as a restaurant. Focus on wine if wine is your thing; leave cocktails to the cocktail nerds. Don’t force your food onto small plates if it doesn’t make sense. Quality is always in style.


Since you brought up the subject of annoying things waiters say, I'd like to add one to the mix; that is when you ask them what is good they'll tell you what they like. I don't know them, nor do I care what they like. Perhaps asking the customer about their food preferences would be a logical thing to do (e.g., do you like spicy foods, etc.).

If you are going to ask "what is good?" you shouldn't be surprised or mad if the waiter or waitress suggests something they like because they are giving you a first hand in what they think is good. (In their opinion)

How smart of you to say what many diners feel. The worst thing i encounter in a restaurant is learning the name of the wait staff. Truth is i simply cannot remember their name. And, i probably don't really care. I love it when they explain what is special today because i like to try new things. I always ask to see if they have tried the special, so you might recommend to the restaurant that they try the specials every day.And, you are absolutely correct about the web site. They should have their name and phone number on every page (and a hot link) of their web site, just like a good retailer should have their name and phone number on every page of their ad.In Lew Korfeld's book "How to catch a mouse"-make a sound like a cheese, he takes the time to discuss the very basics of marketing. What could be more basic than your name and phone number in front of the customer all of the

I suggest that "forgetting who you are" can lead to the above problems. We are all under pressure to be "current." Our customers patronize us because we have remained who we are. Reacting to trends is a tricky business.If you are opening a new restaurant, I only offer this:Consistently good food served by a polite person in a spotless environment has been working for decades. If you can't get that done, stay out of the restaurant business!

I agree with the comment by tstorey, "Consistently good food served by a polite person in a spotless environment has been working for decades". I don't know how many restaurants open in our city and after a few months look like no one has bothered to clean since they opened. One additional thought. If you fry food, be sure you have a way of keeping it contained. I hate the feeling of built up grease on the walls, tables and chairs.

I agree that the "Standard Greeting" is somewhat condescending. If you hire the right type of people, those with a personality, they will develop their own. Supply them with a professional name tag, not something with dymo-label tape and I will be able to figure out their name. I do like to know who my server is in case I need them or would like to request them on my next visit. I have traveled extensively and when at a bar that I am not familiar with the employees names, I always ask for their name, a matter of respect. I find that I receive better service.I explain to my clients that the Webpage is generally visited after a guest has been introduced to you venue in some other way to check on i.e. phone, address, Happy Hour etc. If you want to reach out to potential customers you need to develop an email contact list and/or email marketing such as Groupon.

As far as the greeting is concerned, I don't think it's bad if they ask whether or not you have been there before. They probably wanna know how many returning customers they have and some people still do have questions about the menu.To suggest that the answer is that the customer is too stupid to understand is ridiculous, in my opinion.

Ask the question by all means, but not as a greeting! All the diner at the door wants at that moment is a table, then a menu, not a conversation, as the menu is the first possible stumbling block, ask if they've dined with you when passing out the menus, you might also ask what they ate when they where here last and use that as the impetus for a brief conversation to make suggestions from menu or specials.

The "Standard" question that annoys the hell out of me is "are you ready to order?" Can the wait staff not see the menu and what I'm doing with it? When I am ready to order the menu will be closed in front of me. Training, Training, Training!

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