The longer I’m in the business and the more I dine out it becomes clearer that the little details are really what makes the difference between average and great. The things I remember from a dining experience are rarely center of the plate dishes or components. You definitely need great ingredients, proper preparation, and presentation but for me a hostess that offers a kind word or understanding of my particular situation will be the thing that brings me back. An average family style dining restaurant that has consistent simple food that’s decided to fresh squeeze lemon-aid instead of a mix or powder will catch my attention. That simple elegant detail of fresh lemon-aid will be the thing I mention to others and that I’ll remember when choosing where to eat.
It seems like a simple rule, just do whatever your doing well. If you serve coffee make sure that you select the best your price point & cost will absorb. But then clean your urns and brewing equipment, brew it in the right amount and keep it fresh. I’d much rather have a great cup of coffee than to be sold a mediocre latte. Just do what ever your doing the best you can, rather than shooting for the moon and falling short. While living in Vermont there was a restaurant that baked fresh bread and sliced it for toast. We would drive 25 miles, past a dozen very good restaurants, just to eat that toast with our eggs on a Sunday morning. Everything else was well prepared, but more or less the same offerings as the competition, it was that toast that did it. That toast told a story that someone had passion and care. It showed me that if someone takes the time to bake on site and slice bread by hand there’s a good chance the eggs will be fresh, seasoned, and properly cooked. Be it fresh squeezed lemons, great bread, or mayo from scratch these types of products are a barometer for how your whole experience will be. It takes determination to provide a great experience and chances are better that a Chef that takes the time to do bread or mayo correctly will sear the snapper perfectly. They’re also much more likely to hire similar minded people and train them well. This is just as true in a local diner as it is in Michelin stared Dining.
So that’s what I look for when I dine and the reasons I love everything from street food to fine dining as long as I can find an approach that shows I’ve been considered in the whole process. I don’t expect or want all restaurants to be everything to everyone, some people find the speed of a drive through to be the “thing” their looking for. But for me I look for a connection to “me” rather than a market segment. I want to be exposed to new ideas and food, but to be considered in the process. Is there a vegetarian selection or chef who’s able to create for Kristine? If not, the best cassoulet or Sous-vide Lobster in the world may not be spectacular when I’m with my wife. That one detail will make or break a restaurant for “us”. If I’m with my brother, a Chef as well, the connection will be different. Different, but measured the same, is there the passion, quality, and consistency to deliver the details what ever the style and level of dining. That’s it, simple or complex this is a people business, not a food business. Look for the place that considers that, look for that simple fresh squeezed lemon-aid and you’ll find much more.