What makes a Great Restaurant? by Nick Munier
What makes a Great Restaurant? Picture the scene, soft lit mood-lighting, a bustling & atmospheric ambiance, an aroma of tantalising flavours that evoke the senses & an array of beautiful smiling faces greeting you with a warmth and familiarity that instantly puts you at ease……yes, that well known brand of lager don’t do “The perfect restaurant” – but if they did, boy would it tick all the boxes!!!
Reality check time! In the absence of my wildly colourful imagination I find myself questioning what indeed does make the perfect restaurant?? In my quest to demystify the most sensational dining experience, I delved into the wonderment of everything it takes for a restaurant to provide the perfect gastronomic and dining backdrop.
We all have our own personal opinions on this……for me, its the perfect combination of simple things being done right & coming together (consider it like a perfect duet like Sonny & Cher, Hall & Oates & Cheese and Onion crisps!! What separates a “great” restaurant from a “good” one is the attention to detail in every little thing – from the napkins, the cutlery, the glassware, the plates, the lighting – not to mention the food! In my mind when you go into a great restaurant that has nailed all of that and has the je ne sais quoi or inimitable x factor, you can feel it. It ignites a richness of the senses – like that wonderful perfume or piece of music that evokes a great memory.
So Folks without further ado, you’ve read the reviews and the blogs, you’ve listened to the word of mouth, salivated over the foodporn images straight from the comfort of your smart phone and now its time for you to don your glad rags & immerse yourself in Muniers ultimate guide to what makes a great restaurant experience for you the paying customer!
As with everything in life – first impressions are key!! The moment you step in the door, the restaurant instantaneously makes an impression on you – be it good, bad or indifferent! Does the person at the door acknowledge you, do you feel important, has your inner VIP been embraced or do you feel intimidated & feel like a fish out of water?? Who knew going out for a delectable meal could emit all these emotions! Ultimately the dining experience is supposed to be enjoyable & the restaurant are responsible for giving you the best time of your life (well for a 2 hour period of time anyway!)
A restaurant with passionate staff gives off a spark that customers feel the moment they walk in – the staff ultimately are the brand ambassadors for the restaurant and should carry that passion with them!
Ok now you’re seated at your table – the last thing you want to do is resort to having to embrace your “inner rock god” and wear your shades to dim the excessive light – or worse still be forced to turn on your smartphone torch to read the menu…..lighting is a key ingredient in creating the right atmosphere in your favourite restaurant!
On the flip side, we’ve all been that solider that has had to fold up a beer mat/ serviette to try and balance that oh so wobbly table! Or worse still sat on the most uncomfortable chairs or screamed over the thumping beats of music that should belong in a late night club, never mind a restaurant! Are you so close to the next table beside you that the Maitre D had to seat you with the aid of a shoe horn. Attention to detail is essential in all aspects of creating the right balance between ambience and a atmospheric vibe.
Cleanliness is nearer to godliness
So you’ve gone to the trouble of donning the glad rags and preening yourself to within an inch of your life for your night out…….so the last thing one would expect to encounter would be frequenting a dirty loo! Folks, we’ve all been there and lets face it its not pleasant so its essential that the lavatories in a great restaurant are not only hygienically clean but have almost as much of a wow factor as the restaurant itself!
Would you care to order ?
Its time to concentrate on the main event! What culinary delights await from the aladdins cave of the kitchen! Simplicity is key when it comes to creating a good menu without the need for a language degree to decipher what to order. The last thing one wants is to be handed what resembles a phone directory on a night out!
Le Food – style over substance
It would appear we somewhat live by extreme in so far as some restaurants try to impress with style over substance serving tiny, prettily dressed portions looking lost on the vast expanse of a white plate while others go to the opposite extreme and fill plates like an Irish Mammy at christmas serving up the loaves and the fishes with no thought or regard to the taste conflicts between the array of ingredients!
Indeed there is nothing worse then having to dream about supplementing your miserly proportioned dinner with a midnight snack at the golden arches of McDonalds or your local chipper – a happy balance is required & servings should be just right! Fresh ingredients make a huge difference to what finally appears on your plate & I am a huge advocate of promoting the use of locally produced ingredients. Freshly baked bread, sauces and pasta made from scratch, make a world of difference.
I always stand by the statement that the front of house staff in a restaurant are just as important as the back! Trust me you would concur with me if you were greeted by a Manuel or Basil Fawlty from Fawlty Towers taking your order!!! Your server should make you feel comfortable, take your order and explain the menu if necessary and bring your food and drink without fuss & clear away unobtrusively when finished!
Desserts to finish
The piece de resistance for me in the making of a great restaurant is being able to finish off your culinary crusade with a sensational dessert! If you have a sweet tooth like me, four frozen vienetta style desserts will not cut the mustard (pardon the pun!) & a gifted Pastry Chef should showcase a wide selection of skillfully produced desserts, designed to delight and also cleanse your palate.
For me the dessert is the best part of the meal and one that the Pastry chef can truly express creativity and flair and not forgetting the wonderful cheese plates that should be served correctly at the right temperature and with the proper accompaniments.
Value for money
Obviously you don’t want to have taken out a credit union loan or broken the bank for a good meal out. A great restaurant experience should leave you feeling like you’ve got great value for money & make you want to go back again and again to create even more memories!
So there you have it…..I could go on for hours about other nuggets of gold that go into the making of a great restaurant but for now I’ll leave it with this simple piece of advice…..go out and enjoy the wealth of amazing restaurants that our wonderful emerald isle has to offer & explore your own thoughts of what really does make the perfect restaurant, Bon Appetit !
Nick Munier is a much loved Restauranteur, Artist and TV personality – having worked on RTE’s Masterchef Ireland and ITV’s Hells Kitchen. Nick has worked with many of the most respected and esteemed chefs in the world along with working in some of Britain and Irelands most high profile establishments. He is passionate about food and writing, having written his own account of over 20 years experience at front of house in his book “Boiling Point: Adventures in the restaurant Game” & is proud to be a monthly contributor on thetaste.ie
Follow Nick on Twitter: https://twitter.com/NickMunier