On Our Plate: Best Brunches in the U.S.; Mother’s Day $200 Giveaway; Soft-Shell Crabs; Arizona Restaurant Week; S. Pellegrino World’s 50 Best Restaurants

Best way to start a meal? A cold martini -- and the truffled popcorn from the Bar Room at the Modern doesn't hurt either.

Happenings on and around OpenTable…

* We’re celebrating the release of our 2012 Diners’ Choice Awards for Top 100 Restaurants for Brunch in the U.S. Find out if your fave place to celebrate the weekend made our list!

* Enter our Mother’s Day ‘Feed the Mom Who Fed You’ Giveaway! Score one of five $200 gift certificates, plus we’re donating $100 to Share Our Strength’s No Kid Hungry campaign in your favorite mom’s name for each winning entry.

* This week’s restaurant review trendSoft-shell crabs!

* What’s your drink when dining out? Vote in this week’s poll!

* Did you know you can book many of the 2012 Conde Nast Hot Tables right on OpenTable? It’s true!

* Congratulations to the honorees on the 2012 San Pellegrino World’s 50 Best Restaurants. Reserve your tables now!

* Did you send the Tweet of the WeekFind out.

* Restaurant Week in Arizona is coming soon. Don’t miss your chance to dine out for less!

And, we’re still hiring! We’re staffing up and looking for talented people to join our team. Check out openings in customer supportengineeringfield operationsfinanceIT and technical servicesmarketingoperations, and sales.

Bad Service at a Restaurant: What Would You Do?

bad-serviceThis past weekend, I dined out a restaurant (one not on the OpenTable network, and, on behalf of my fellow diners, I am glad for that) and experienced really poor service. I’ve waited tables at many restaurants. Because of that, I am always apt to cut servers a lot of slack. It is a difficult job and, as a waiter, you cannot control every element of the dining experience, even though you are the face of the dining experience. That said, I usually don’t complain about service unless it is abominable. And this was.

After botching every possible aspect of our meal, I voiced my opinion to the server. The manager, with whom I’m friendly, came over and offered up various amends: different dishes, comped entrees, or free drinks and dessert. I told him I wasn’t interested in any of that as we had to leave, and the point wasn’t that I was looking for money off my bill. It occurred to me, though, that I didn’t know what I wanted. Probably an apology from the waiter. Ideally, a do-over on the whole meal, which came at the end of a very stressful day. Looking back, I think I should have asked the manager for a different server as soon as things got off course.

I’m reminded of a silly (and — WARNING! — often off-color) film starring Ryan Reynolds (aka Mr. ScarJo) called Waiting, about servers toiling away at an awful chain restaurant. In one scene, a patron wants to send her food back, and the poor server points out, “Ma’am, I don’t doubt the steak was overcooked, but did you have to eat it all before you complained about it?” Diners can behave badly, too, and negatively impact their own dining experience. However, great service has the transformative power of making a mediocre meal fantastic. Terrible service can overpower any food, no matter how carefully prepared and delicious it may be.

How important is quality service to you when you’re dining out? What do you do when the service is less than stellar? What should I have asked for from the manager after my experience? Weigh in here or over on Facebook.

And, speaking of service, stay tuned tomorrow as we roll out our Diners’ Choice Awards for Best Service provided by restaurants in America. Find out if your favorite restaurant makes the cut!

Fondue or Fon-don’t: Does Melted Cheese Melt Hearts?

Fondue-or-FondontWe recently announced the winners of the OpenTable Diners’ Choice award for the Top 50 Most Romantic Restaurants. Of the 50, a whopping 12 were Melting Pot restaurants, where fondue anchors the menus. Two other winners, La Fondue and Simply Fondue, are also, as you might have guessed by their names, fondue-friendly eateries. The Chicago Tribune‘s food blog, The Stew, picked up on our list’s fromage factor and ran with it, while the clever folks over at Eater didn’t want to give a shout out to these restaurants when they generously covered our list, saying, “[F]ondue hasn’t been considered romantic since Three’s Company went off the air.” The fact remains, however, that many diners find fondue to be the perfect mood food for a romantic evening.

What exactly is it that makes love bloom over melted cheese and other cook-it-yourself delights? We weren’t quite sure, so we reached out to our network of diners over Facebook and Twitter. Bulbul Gupta says, “Interactive food is always a great date dinner idea, interactive anything is very romantic — you learn to share early on and can easily feed each other with a one-foot distance without it getting overly mushy…perfect!” Diner Teresa Miller concurs, “The Melting Pot in Larkspur is VERY romantic. The location is in an old brick kiln with lots of low lighting. Cheese is comfort food, hence the reason why romance blooms when bellies are satisfied!” Jennifer Kaplan, also a fondue fan, says, “My husband and I do find it romantic. The lighting is low and the tables are reasonably secluded. We enjoy lingering over our dinner and find the food to be very good.” Ryan Mathus tweets, “I find fondue/Melting Pot cool just because it’s not your traditional meal and more hands on. It’s all about us.” Fellow tweep Jen Fairchild notes, rather poetically (or erotically?), “Fondue is steamy and hot and thick and creamy and good…just like love!”

Perhaps the best and not-at-all cheesy cheese story we heard comes from OpenTable diner Cara Couture of Charlotte, North Carolina. She writes, “My husband and I go to The Melting Pot any time we have reason to celebrate — graduation, anniversary, new job, a Friday night — but our favorite reason was to celebrate our engagement. In between the limo ride and the chartered plane trip around the city of Columbus, Ohio, my then-fiancé made dinner reservations at our favorite restaurant, The Melting Pot, where a bouquet of roses was at our regular table with a congratulations card signed by the restaurant staff. To this day, that remains the most romantic night of my life.” Sigh. My husband’s marriage proposal is looking more and more lame the more stories I hear like this one (a chartered plane?). But, I digress.

To find out if the people from The Melting Pot had any insights as to why their dining experience is so aphrodisiacal, we reached out to Chad Hornik, who owns several Melting Pot locations, including those in Richmond and Virginia Beach,  which were included on our Top 50 Most Romantic Restaurants winners for 2010. Hornik says of his restaurants’ romantic appeal, “Dining with fondue creates an aura of romance. It’s a participation meal — you’re cooking, helping, talking. Even if the conversation gets awkward, diners can talk about the food.” Also, “The lighting is dim, and each table is designed to have its own intimate atmosphere. We even have curtains that block off some of our tables, and sometimes we have to knock before we enter!” The Melting Pot, though, is more than just cheese. Hornik adds, “The cheese is just the appetizer. It’s a relaxed four-course dining experience, and the desserts…well, dipping strawberries into chocolate is pretty romantic.”

Chad, you had me (and, most certainly, my chocoholic husband) at strawberries and chocolate. Perhaps a a trip to The Melting Pot will prompt a second proposal. And, yes, Curt, that means a second ring.

Best Restaurants for American Cuisine: Your 50 Favorites

american-flag.jpgAre you feeling particularly patriotic as Independence Day draws near? Celebrate by dining out at one of the national winners of the OpenTable 2009 Diners’ Choice awards for Best American Cuisine, as selected by OpenTable diners. Based on 2.5 million reviews of more than 9,000 restaurants in all 50 states and the District of Columbia, you can be sure this is one democratic list.

With winners in 23 states, the odds of finding the best American food in your neck of the woods are pretty high. And, proving the coastal states don’t dominate this cuisine, middle America makes a strong showing, with four winners in Missouri and three in both Colorado and Illinois, among others.

So, leave the barbecue behind this 4th of July, and book a table at any of these top restaurants that will make you proud to be an American foodie.