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How do you define "mediocre?"

I see this word bandied about quite a bit on different boards. So many people refer to food served at various establishments (usually chain restaurants, or the like) as "mediocre." So my question is, how do you define it? Is it the quality, the presentation, the preparation, or what? Or all of that?


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  1. Evidently this is a tough enough question that no one can come up with better than a mediocre answer. Including me as I have yet to be able to define it in words other than from a dictionary. Perhaps it is like the old supreme court justice description of Pornography... can't be defined but I will know it when I see( in this case taste) it.

    1. To me, mediocre food is bland or just a little over or undercooked, or perhaps started out with processed ingredients that weren't then enhanced by technique. I find most peel and eat shrimp to be mediocre, for example, especially if they aren't brined or marinated before cooking. Many chain restaurants cook shrimp in this way. They don't bother to start with a good product, then they don't apply any spices or seasoning or use a cooking technique that adds flavor. Finally, they're brought to the table with some kind of sauce drizzled over, as if that will help. They look appealing, but the first bite tells the story. Bleh.

      So, yeah, I guess it's the quality and the preparation. I love a nice presentation, but poor presentation rarely ruins good food for me.

      8 Replies
      1. re: amyzan

        Good shrimp need not be brined nor marinaded before cooking. The shrimp you are eating at chain restaurants have a lot more serious problems than those. Good fresh, wild shrimp are perfect cooked as simply as possible.

        Mediocre means it falls in the middle of the scale between great and awful. I think that's why many people settle for medicre food. If you aren't actively searching for food that is great, then food that is just not-awful works for you.

        1. re: danna

          Fresh wild shrimp aren't found in Kansas City, where I live. Once or twice I have eaten shrimp in chain restaurants. Thus my example. Please don't assume from my post that I eat regularly in chains.

          I can obtain wild shrimp, whole, no heads, from Florida here, and that's the best I've found. Even they require brining or marinade, because of freezing no doubt. Not everyone is lucky enough to obtain fresh whole wild shrimp, danna.

          1. re: amyzan

            Since I can get fresh wild shrimp (delicious) here in Bloomington, IN, I'm somewhat surprised that it's not available in KC. I've found that the flavor of frozen wild shrimp is still good, but the texture suffers quite a bit.

            1. re: pikawicca

              How do you get it, off a weekly truck? Flown in, at a grocery? Are you certain that it wasn't previously frozen? I've never seen it here. I shop different groceries, and I'm not fibbing. I'd love to know where you find it, and if we have that grocery here.

              1. re: amyzan

                I buy it from a grocery store (Marsh), and sometimes from an itinerant vendor from Texas. It's easy to differentiate fresh from previously frozen: A fresh shrimp will snap back after being uncurled; a previously frozen one won't. Also -- if you don't overcook, fresh shrimp have a very pleasent snap when you bite into one.

                1. re: pikawicca

                  "A fresh shrimp will snap back after being uncurled"

                  You mean while it's raw, right?

            2. re: amyzan

              I wasn't being critical of your shrimp...trust me, there's plenty of good stuff I just can't get here. I AM skeptical of the brining/marinading thing, though.

              My second para was to address the OP's question of a mediocre definition. It was not directed at you in any way.

        2. Imo it means food prepared adequately (not bad as in inedible) but not good enough to want to revisit. Your stomach is fed, but not your palate or soul...

          2 Replies
          1. re: meatn3

            "Your stomach is fed, but not your palate or soul.." You've got it. That was the food I grew up eating. Not awful, but ...nothing. And as a teenager, I tended to eat too much to make up for never feeling emotionally satisfied. Maybe that's why now I like small(ish) portions of amazing food and hate mindless eating.

            1. re: Glencora

              I totally agree with both of the above posts. For me, mediocre food leaves my stomach full but the experience of eating it isn't one i want to remember. Maybe people who view food as fuel and not as something that can be exciting, fun and pleasurable have had too many mediocre meals!

          2. Totally adequate? (I love that phrase!)
            i.e. food was correctly prepared to prevent any type of spoilage (and hence minimized any change of personal damage) BUT: the food was totally uninteresting!
            If it brings up the question: Why am I eating this? then you got Mediocre!
            In my mind it is centered upon taste & texture (pretend it is dark and/or you are blind? so presentation/service sits in the backseat)
            Forget about atmosphere & service. Concentrate on the food itself.
            Do I want to eat this again?
            If you really don't care to eat it again, then it is Mediocre.
            Life is too short to eat Mediocre food?

            1 Reply
            1. re: dancingTimmy

              Timmy, Agreed, that's why we have Chowhound. The very essences of mediocre food is the concept of a franchise. (PF Chang's, Olive Garden, Claim Jumper, etc.) When food is prepared with no soul, there is no chance to rise above the lowest denominator. Unfortunately, that is the standard American's seem to embrace.

            2. I tend to think of mediocre food like this: by the next day you can't recall what you ate.

              Mediocre food is devoid of personality - it may be perfectly cooked, made from the best ingredients, and lovely to look at, but there is no zing that makes you react with the first bite and makes you want to offer a taste to your dining companions (and no zing that makes you want to rush home and post about your discovery to ChowHound).

              Mediocre food is not bad food - it's not something you send back to the kitchen, because there's nothing technically wrong with it, it's just lacking an essence.

              Mediocre food can be consumed without thought and it doesn't leave an impression, good or bad.

              Mediocre food is a waste of time and calories - I'd rather have an excellent burger from a local burger shack (fresh ground meat, good cheese, perfect veggies) served in a styrofoam box and eaten at a heavily graffiti-carved picnic table than a mediocre three-course dinner that feels like a way to kill time.

              Bland foods are sometimes mediocre, sometimes not - my mother's tuna noodle hotdish is bland, but it's far from mediocre. My own tuna noodle hotdish is both bland and mediocre. A local place makes bland chicken pot pies - but they're not mediocre and they are crave-worthy. I *know* what they taste like through memory - but I can't recall the taste of the chicken pot pie I had at Marie Callender's two week's ago.

              So mediocre is neither good nor bad - it lacks individuality and leaves no lasting impression. At least to me.

              3 Replies
              1. re: ElsieDee

                I think you are right on with your thoughts of what mediocre food is.

                1. re: ElsieDee

                  "Mediocre leaves no lasting impression" yeah, unless you paid a lot for it, then it sure does! ;-)

                  1. re: ElsieDee

                    "Mediocre food is devoid of personality"

                    Mediocre food - ain't got no soul. Uninspiring

                  2. Mediocre is a Wednesday night throw together supper at home. It fills the empty space. You don't go out to dinner for this.

                    1 Reply
                    1. re: yayadave

                      I agree with the "filling the empty space" part, but not the "Wednesday night throw together supper at home". Not that I cook gourmet meals every night, but even the hodge-podge meals that sometimes happen in my house are definitely better than what I consider mediocre.

                    2. For me mediocre means an average meal. Nothing groundbreaking in taste or quality, but the food didnt make me sick either. Not a meal I would seek out, but in a pinch I can get nourishment.

                      1. I think mediocre is when I know I could make it better myself.

                        1. To me mediocre means average to below average food (maybe a C or C- on a school grading system). Nothing atrocious, but nothing memorable or even "good" about it. Generic. Lukewarm when it should be hot. Just some things that come to mind. Almost like when you're full, but not satisfied and still looking for something else to eat.

                          And it has nothing to do with presentation or price, since often the cheapest ethnic meals are anything but mediocre.

                          Basically, food that's just "there".

                          1 Reply
                          1. re: valerie

                            Mediocre to me is food that isn't worth going out of my way to obtain but at the same time it's not inedible. i.e. a Subway sandwich for me is mediocre, I wouldn't make a special trip to get one, but if it's close by and it's $4.29 footlong Tuesdays, then Subway will be fine for lunch.

                          2. It can be any or all of the above. For me the definition of medicre is when I can't remember the meal three days later.

                            4 Replies
                            1. re: MobyRichard

                              I agree with many of the comments above. Mediocre to me means forgettable and disappointing. There might me more than one reason why I think a dinner or lunch is mediocre. It might be too salty, too expensive, bad service or I could make it better at home, or just plain boring. In a word... underwhelming!

                              1. re: Texchef

                                I think meatn3 and ElsieDee have wrapped their arms around a loose definition. What's missing is context.

                                I do think one can crave, or at least desire, mediocrity. Few here would agree that Whopper Jr. is the pinnacle of flame-broiled burger goodness. But, we understand both the taste and the value proposition. When we decide to go down that road, we fully expect the Whopper Jr. to be mediocre and when it is mediocre, we're happy it's not worse than that. Delivering the bare minimum acceptable to meet expectations. Nothing more nothing less.

                                However, as one climbs the food chain, mediocrity become a word to describe not only the soulless quality of what's on the plate but, I believe, the soullessness of the kitchen. It's far worse condemnation of a starred restaurant to call food or service mediocre than it is to do same of even a higher end corporate cafeteria like McCormick & Schmick or Cheesecake Factory because your expecations are higher.

                              2. re: MobyRichard

                                It's funny how true this is because of course I remember the amazing meals I've had and the flip side is I also remember the truly bad ones, but the memories of the mediocre ones just fade away...

                                Edit: I don't now why my post ended up down here - it was supposed to be a response to MobyRichard.

                                1. re: flourgirl

                                  Or sometimes I'll vividly remember aps, but not the main. Funny how the mind works.

                              3. mediocre is when you are in a good mood and don't want to say the place you just finished eating at sucks.

                                2 Replies
                                1. re: byrd

                                  That's funny, and true. Inferior food can also be merely "mediocre" if someone you love cooked it and you just keep hoping their technique or their shopping skills (or both) improve!

                                  1. re: amyzan

                                    mediocre is one notch below acceptable and one notch above ick.

                                2. Not noticeably good or bad.

                                  1. As the old definition of pornography goes: "I'll know when I see it" (or eat it).