As a professional eater and writer, I'm allocated about 650 words to review a restaurant. That includes assessing food, service and other things that constitute the dining-out experience.
A reader who calls himself amateur eater sent me 609 words on the things that are important to him when he dines out. Food isn't mentioned.
Click on the READ MORE link below to read them all.
When you're done reading the list, tell me what's important to you.
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NOISE LEVEL: I do not go to a restaurant if I've gone once and found I can't hear my companion without shouting. Music: If it is muted, I prefer that. I can even tolerate country-western but only if it sounds like it is coming from the kitchen and the cooks look cheerful about it.
LIGHTING: If it is so dark I need a flashlight to see menu, I'm not coming back. If none of the light is natural, I generally feel uncomfortable. I like a window here and there.
DECOR: If the decor looks like it came from a restaurant supply house, I reduce my expectations.
BOOTHS/CHAIRS: I like booths if the bench seats are upholstered and they provide a visual barrier between us and the next couple for privacy. When chairs are either too small or can't be pulled out without knocking into another diner, I am less likely to return. It seems obvious to me that they are more interested in volume than customers.
MENUS: If they are dirty, food-stained or tattered, I'm uneasy about everything else.
GLASSWARE: I am not fussy, but it is reassuring to see it shine, to have it well placed; to have it replaced if I order a 2nd glass.
SILVERWARE: See menu above.
ENTRYWAY: If it is too close to the first set of tables, or the table where we sit, I often feel the breeze or find the crowd of waiting customers annoying. I'm there to enjoy my meal, not hurry through it as if I were guilty for going to dinner.
STAFF INTERACTION: The way they treat each other (brusque) and the way they talk among themselves (gossipy, unaware of the customer's presence) can be a real meal-buster. I saw too much of the latter at one of Tacoma's alleged best restaurants last week. I don't need devoted attention. Don't even want it. But I resent it when 2 staff 3 feet away are blathering about their weekend.
BUSSING STATIONS: Since I was 15 I have wondered by any serious restaurant would locate a seat or table within 10 feet of a bussing station. It's not only disruptive to hear/see the stashing/clanking of silver and china. It is unsavory. Even if there is a visual screen, I can't imagine any customers who want to be near it. )
CEILING HEIGHT: It may seem trivial. But low ceilings feel oppressive. High ones lift the spirit. Low ones make me feel as if I'm having a meal in a mobile home, high ones, a castle.
THE WAIT: How long do we wait before the hostess greets us or comes to our table. If a brief visual or verbal signal if given, I am OK for 4-5 minutes. But if they appear to ignore us I will leave. 3 minute wait is pushing it. 5 minute wait is too long.
WINE/BEER LIST: If it's weak (i.e. only 4-5 mediocre choices I skip them. If there is no cabernet, I order beer. If the beer list is timid, so is my meal.
OTHER CUSTOMERS: I never see this mentioned in reviews. But here are some "first impression" effects I am willing to bet will decide whether a customer comes in or walks away:
AGE OF OTHER CUSTOMERS: If too many toddlers, prepare for chaos.
ELEGANCE OF CLOTHING OF OTHER CUSTOMERS: Either too fancy or too shabby.
MANNERS OF OTHER CUSTOMERS: If they're obnoxious, rude or rowdy, we'll think twice about returning).
ETHNICITY OF OTHER CUSTOMERS: If I'm going for a serious Mexican meal, it inspires me to see some Hispanic faces.