How to Dine Like a Restaurant Critic #hackdining

How to Dine Like a Restaurant CriticSo, let’s get this out of the way. Being a restaurant critic can be pretty hard work. You can put away the tiny violins, and let’s pause for the laughter to die down.

Yes, of course, it’s terrific fun, and you sometimes want to pinch yourself for actually getting paid to dine, but the responsibility of a restaurant critic, in fact, goes well beyond just chomping down a meal and writing something about it. The point is, a thoughtful critic is mindful of the fact that he/she is ultimately passing judgment on some else’s hard work and recognizes the impact their verdict can ultimately have. This is no small responsibility. A good review can help launch a successful restaurant; a bad one, though, can be devastating. It’s not something to take lightly.

Following are eight tips for how to dine like a restaurant critic on a review.

1. Choose wisely. Ideally, you want to pick a restaurant that takes you out of your comfort zone. Don’t go to a place you’ve already been to a million times. Try something new, so you can approach the experience with a fresh point of view. Among the options you might consider: type of cuisine, price point, location, innovative formats (e.g. Japanese-Jewish fusion? Dessert only?), as well as the presence of a celebrity chef.
Advice: Be adventurous with your restaurant reservations.

2. Do your homework. If you’re tackling a cuisine that’s new to you, a bit of research about culture, ingredients, and preparations can go a long way and make for a much richer experience. This can help you gain a better sense of what some of the must-try dishes are and provide you more confidence when ordering. Also, if there are specialties that require advance notice (e.g. Peking Duck, suckling pig), better to know before you get there.
Advice: Read up on the restaurant and the style of cooking before you go.

3. Allow the restaurant a grace period. While it’s tempting to want to evaluate a new place right away, you typically want to give the kitchen a bit of time to get its sea legs. In theory, a restaurant should be fully ready for customers from the day it opens its doors to customers. In reality, it can often take time to properly train a newly staffed kitchen, iron out wrinkles in service, and refine dishes.
Advice: Do yourself (and the restaurant) a favor, and wait three to six weeks post-opening for the dust to settle.

4. Use discretion. A critic — whether a blogger or a writer for a major publication — should function as an advocate for the “everyman.” I literally imagine myself as a stand-in for my readers. When dining for a review, you ought to receive the same treatment as anyone else in order get and to give a fair and balanced assessment of the occasion. It certainly can be nice to get VIP treatment, but that doesn’t likely mirror what the typical diner will experience.
Advice: Don’t announce that you are writing a review, and never ask for free food in exchange for a review. That pretty much disqualifies your ability to be impartial.Continue Reading

When Restaurants Google You, Is It Creepy – or Cool?

Here’s something you may or may not know: Many of the best restaurants in the world research their guests online prior to a shift, with a view to learning something that will help them give those diners truly personalized, exceptional hospitality.

We were curious how people might feel about that, so we decided to ask U.S. OpenTable members, “When restaurants Google you, is it creepy or cool?” More than 6,000 chimed in with their responses, which led to the following interesting findings:

“Creepy” trumps “cool”

While many people aren’t bothered by the notion of being Googled by restaurant staff, the number of people who consider it “creepy or intrusive” outweighs the number of people who think it’s a good thing.

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Many of the 5 percent who answered “other” seemed baffled by the notion. “Not sure about that. What will they really get?” wondered one respondent. “Too much of a ‘Big Brother’ feeling,” commented another. “These must be expensive restaurants!” reasoned a third.

Diners in some cities are more creeped out than others

When we looked at the data by metro area, we saw a fair amount of variation. The most relaxed about this practice were our diners in Dallas, which was, in fact, the only city where those who think it’s a good thing (34 percent) outweighed those who consider it creepy (23 percent).

Meanwhile, respondents from cities farther north (think Boston, Chicago, and Minneapolis) were a lot more suspicious of being researched by a restaurant at which they were about to dine.Continue Reading

Five Things Diners Do That Drive Restaurant Workers Crazy #hackdining

Chefs Preapring Food TogetherMost seasoned diners know that a refined restaurant experience is much more than just the act of serving you good food on a plate. It’s a hospitality business in every sense. The passionate restaurateur yearns for their customers to have a wonderful experience — not just so you’ll come back and tell your friends about it — but because, quite frankly, it’s part of their DNA. Chefs, in particular, crave approval and desperately want to make you happy. It’s a big part of why they went into this trying business. (It certainly wasn’t for the money.) Running a restaurant is about as hard a job as it gets.

So is the customer always right? Does anything go? Well, yes and…no. While a top-notch restaurant should bend over backwards to accommodate its guests, the reality is that the relationship ought to, in fact, be a bit of two-way street — so everybody can win.

With a bit of background into the creative and operational process of running a restaurant based on personal experience and recent interviews with several chefs who wish to remain anonymous, here are five things diners do that drive restaurant workers crazy.

Incomplete parties: Restaurants essentially make their money much the same way airlines do: they sell time in their seats. This is perishable inventory, only with fine dining and expensive ingredients in the fridge, even more so. The equation is simple: available tables x minutes the restaurant is open x cost of the items you order. There are precious few minutes each day when a restaurant must earn all its money, so every minute a table or individual seat sits idle, that is revenue that’s gone forever. So, when your party is incomplete and the server sometimes doesn’t seat you, understand there is a method to the madness.
Advice: Try to arrive together and on time, be a bit patient if you’re not, and ALWAYS let the restaurant know if you need to cancel as soon as possible so they don’t lose an opportunity to fill the table. And, please never no-show for your reservation.

Table breaks: The process of preparing and serving a variety of menu items for a large table can be a choreographic miracle. In sophisticated kitchens, there literally can be dozens of cooks working on one meal to simultaneously ensure that the poached egg atop of your crisp frisée salad is deliciously runny at the same time that your date’s fettuccine is perfectly al dente. The chef acts as the kitchen’s conductor, making sure everything is in synch and just right. When a server cues that you are, say, getting close to finishing your appetizer, this culinary orchestra jumps into motion in order to send out all the various plates at the same time and at the exact right preparation and temperature. Keep that in mind when you wander out to take a 20 minute phone call mid-meal. It can throw the kitchen into a tizzy as they try and keep your various dishes at the right temperature while trying to guess when you might return.
Advice: If you must leave the table mid-meal, let the server or host know — or wait to slip out until the food has come, if possible.

Modifications: A great dish — even a good one — is a calibration of texture, temperature, and ingredients, especially flavors like salt, acid, and fat. This process doesn’t happen by chance. It’s often the result of methodical, creative experimentation and refinement to get that balance precisely right. Asking the server to take an ingredient out of a dish is akin to sawing the leg off a table – the whole thing can “tip” over and all that hard work goes out the window. A number of chefs I’ve spoken with complained that it drives them nuts when customers arbitrarily eliminate a component, ask for it on the side, or – the worst form of insult – request to substitute something else entirely. The main worry is that when you remove an ingredient, the dish no longer tastes the way it was intended, and the experience (and their vision) is seriously diminished.
Advice: If it’s an actual allergy, you’d do best to order something else. If it’s an aversion, ask your server to guide you to a dish that has all the flavors you enjoy most.Continue Reading

Dining with Kids: The Best Special Requests for a Fuss-Free Meal #everydaydining

Let’s not kid ourselves; dining with kids, even the best of them, isn’t always a seamless experience. However, there are ways you can set the stage for success before you go. We talked to Victoria Levin, the general manager at Marc Murphy’s Landmarc at the Time Warner Center restaurant in New York, to get her tips.

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Landmarc at the Time Warner Center isn’t a kids’ restaurant, but it is a kid-friendly restaurant. Despite its proximity to the posh Per Se in the tony Time Warner Center, Landmarc is the kind of restaurant that can create a cool evening for couples — or a fabulous lunch for the kindergarten set and their folks. Levin says, “In New York, there are a lot restaurants at which children are treated differently. We recognize that even after you become a parent, you’re the same person. You enjoy dining out; you just happen to be expanding your family. So, at Landmarc, we’re bone marrow AND chicken fingers. We’re foie gras AND macaroni and cheese.”

Are you dining with kids? Levin shared five of the best special requests for a fuss-free meal.

Divulge your double wide. If you’re coming to the restaurant with a stroller and need to store it in the restaurant or use it tableside, alert restaurant staffers ahead of time. Sharing specifics about size will allow them to select a table that is stroller-friendly or to be prepared to store it, if necessary. Levin notes, “As you walk into the third floor of the Time Warner Center, there is informal stroller parking that fits about 20 strollers, but some clients want to take their stroller inside, so we do our best to accommodate that.”

Inform the restaurant about your infant carrier. If you’re going to have your newborn snoozing comfortably in a car seat or infant carrier and you want to let sleeping babies lie (which we recommend!), indicate this in your special request. The restaurant can have a chair waiting or a table with ample space around it to make sure your child is safe secure. “We have a lot of families who have come here throughout their pregnancy, and we’re often their first meal. We can turn over a high chair and a carrier easily fits there or if they request a booth, their baby will also fit there comfortably.”

Request a table to help ward off restless toddler syndrome. Got a climber and need a booth? Want a window seat for your pint-sized people watcher? Slug these into your requests so that you can be seated at a table designed to keep your active child engaged. “The most common request is usually a booth or a round open table so parents can step around to help their child. We can’t always guarantee these requests, but having them in advance is helpful,” says Levin. The back of the children’s menu also functions as a coloring book of sorts and the restaurant provides crayons to help occupy young diners. The restaurant also has a feature called “Kids food first,” which is exactly what it sounds like: Your child’s food comes out before yours.

Prepare the restaurant for picky eaters. Not every restaurant is able to accommodate picky eaters, but many are – including Landmarc. Peruse a restaurant’s menu beforehand, and if one of your children requires something off menu, indicate that in the special requests section. Levin says, “Because of the variety of our menu and the flexibility of our kitchen, we can do most simple things. We do get a lot of kids who come in who want the fancy stuff, though!”

Alert the kitchen to allergies. Restaurants love to know about food allergies before you go. The chain of communication begins immediately, and the sooner the front- and back-of-house professionals have this vital information, the more prepared they are to keep your child safe. “We have everything from healthy snacks to our ‘My Plate’ specials, which are great full meals for an advanced child eater. However, pretty much across the board, we can make something happen to suit your child’s dietary needs.”

What are your favorite restaurants to dine at with your kids? And what are your tips for a successful experience? Let us know here or on Facebook, G+, orTwitter.