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Am I Just a Cynic or ....

Am I the only person who sees a crowded restaurant these days and immediately assumes the food is awful (and more often than not, I'm correct). I remember two decades ago if there was a wait in a restaurant, it meant the place was amazing. Nowadays, it seems if there is a wait, the food is average and bland, which is exactly what appeals to most. Obviously this is not always the case in places that are established, but there is a place near me (which will remain nameless) that is mobbed every night. People almost waiting in line at the door. I've been there twice and it's dreadful. The word on the street is it's amazing. The funny thing is there is a place around the corner that is empty that makes the exact same food, perfectly seasoned and it's bashed. I've come to conclusion that most people honestly don't know good food and that bland unseasoned food is more to the average American's liking. I'm not talking about true foodies of course, just "what sells" is usually mediocre to me.

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  1. I don't think "crowded = awful" is a general rule, but in my part of New Jersey, crowded non-American (and I should probably also include non-Western-European) often means bland and boring, as you say.

    1. You are just a cynic I think! The longest lines here in Austin currently are for Franklins BBQ and a Ramen Shop named ramen tatsuya. Both are out of this world delicious!

      2 Replies
      1. re: twyst

        twyst...while I can not speak for the restaurants you mentioned, you're example is perfect. Places that are deemed "great" BBQ in NY is usually awful and the tucked away places that nobody knows about are usually the better spots. Generally, when people rave about BBQ it's because of portions and rarely flavors.

        1. re: jhopp217

          Im in central texas, people dont line up for BBQ here unless its really good :P
          Its widely regarded as the best brisket in the country by many publications.

          http://www.bonappetit.com/magazine/sl...

          I definitely see your point though, I do see many crowded restaurants that just arent very good, but I see many that are amazing and deserve the crowd as well.

      2. Yes, I think you are. A crowded restaurant means a lot of people like it. You may prefer your taste to theirs, fair enough, but taste is often what it's about, and a public attitude of superiority in one's tastes, in food as in art and fashion, is the definition of snobbery There are other reasons, of course - fast food joints don't cater to gourmets, just those looking for something quick and cheap. But that isn't what you're talking about, is it?

        5 Replies
        1. re: John Francis

          "taste is often what it's about"

          Even on Chowhound, we get requests all the time for restaurant with a certain ambience, fun, music, attractive plating, a 'safe' menu for a group, plus all kinds of other aspects aside from taste. It seems to me most people just want to go out and have fun, and they are not putting emphasis on taste.

          I do not disparage restaurants because they are popular or not. Location, PR, tapping into the latest trend, are among many other factors that account for a restaurant's popularity.

          1. re: Steve

            That's especially true in Florida, I tend to avoid places with a view of the water but there are some notable exceptions.

            1. re: huiray

              My point exactly. Olive Garden, Red Lobster, TGIF, all those types. Then when neighborhood places open up it's the same. The worst thing I can ever hear is "tastes like my grandmother used to make." Most people have very skewed tastes when it comes to family meals, because of the setting. I had a friend tell me her mom used to give the sauce to the neighbors because it was so good. I tasted it and it was nearly inedible. The whole family, knowing I'm a snob, said "is that not the best sauce you've ever tasted." I just nodded....meaning it's wasn't

              1. re: jhopp217

                Yes, the Olive Garden two towns away from us is always packed for lunch and dinner. We always laugh about it when we drive by. To make it worse, there is a fairly good mom 'n pop Italian-American place about a mile away from the OG and I am afraid that they won't make it.

          2. Same reason why so many garbage Broadway shows are sold out. Few people know what's good.

            10 Replies
            1. re: beevod

              Broadway shows are filled with out of towners who come pick a show based on advertising. So many pick a show and a Times Sq hotel for "convenience" and never really see Manhattan.
              That being said: We rarely go to "popular" crowded restaurants. We love small, local, side street, neighborhood places and are rarely disappointed. Not that EMP, DelPosto, Jean Georges are not fabulous, it's just not worth our effort to make a res so far in advance etc..
              Then again, we love the tourists who keep the blood flowing in NYC!!

              1. re: Motosport

                Yes Motosport... lots of great neighborhood places in NYC. Why wait on a line?

                1. re: iluvcookies

                  We recently took an out of town business associate and his wife to Jean Georges on his company expense. The food was magnificent with superb service but halfway thru dinner I realized that they would have enjoyed dinner @ Katz's and a nice walk thru the LES better with a nice piece of Strawberry Cheese pie @ Junior's even better. A real NYC experience.
                  We had difficulty getting a cab so I suggested the subway. There was a mild look of apprehension from these small city folks. We led the way assuring them this is they way it's done.
                  Lo and behold @ the next stop a transvestite couple in gold lame' and sequins (both 6' +) get on and start singing show tunes. I told my friends I planned it and asked them to give the "entertainers" a few bucks. After all I put their fares on my Metrocard!!
                  He still talks about that experience a year later.

                  1. re: Motosport

                    Exactly why I love living in this town... you never know who you will meet on the subway :)

                    1. re: Motosport

                      Moto - I wanna hang with you and yours

                        1. re: Motosport

                          I love how interactive NY-ers can be, reminds me of the time I was walking on the UWS with a friend to brunch or a supply run to Zabar's and H+H, she was doing her best Shelley Winters impersonation and belted out "I always liked the word 'f#ck" (quoted from a spot on the Johnny Carson show) and a 6"+ transvestite (why are the good ones scary tall?) commented "ooh honey, the French you speakin' today!"

                      1. re: Motosport

                        Moto, I'm moving to NYC in the next 4-5 months. Will you be my friend? You sound like just the person I need to steer me right in getting to know NYC.

                    2. re: Motosport

                      Folks, complaining about tourists might be fun, but it's off-topic for Chowhound. Please try to keep the discussion focused on food and restaurants.

                  2. Well, I don't necessarily think the food will be awful, but when I see a place that is too crowded, I know that I will not likely enjoy the overall dining experience.

                    3 Replies
                    1. re: iluvcookies

                      "Nobody goes there anymore. It's too crowded."

                    2. I find that many people are limited in the kind of restaurant they want to go to, so if enough people find only a few places acceptable, those places will get mobbed.

                      I'm not bashing the food, but the supply of 'acceptable' restaurants are quite limited in their mind.

                      1. There may be a number of reasons why you don't like those restaurants:

                        1. The crowd thinks the ambiance/vibe is more important than the food, but it's reversed for you.
                        2. If people wait for hours in line for a restaurant, it tends to might make them think it's better because they want to justify having waited so long in line.
                        3. You have different tastes than most people.

                        1. I tend to agree with you. My tastes, for better or worse, do not accord easily with the ravening mob's. At least in the city in which I live. I would also add that the restos I adore frequently get slammed on Urbanspoon, while those which are lauded, I often abhor.

                          1. Crowded to me usually means the intersection of relatively cheap and reasonably tasty, but usually not excellent.

                            1. I have long ago accepted that my tastes run different from most.

                              1. I think this is a very interesting question. I'm from Vancouver Canada and I would say two perfect examples jump to mind, one that is slamming busy yet generally regarded by most foodies as awful, and one that is very busy and deservedly so.
                                I'll start with the undeservedly busy one. It is a greek place in the city centre that has been around for decades, and which might at some point might have been excellent, but has been terrible for nearly a decade yet it is still extremely busy. We are talking hour long line up down the block busy. Now before anyone accuses me of being a food snob let me tell you why I think it is awful.
                                1. It is dirty, the walls are covered in knick knacks and bric brac that hasn't been dusted for ages. I'm not sure what the kitchen looks like but that kind of grime in the dining room doesn't bode well.
                                2. The service is perfunctory at best. The wait staff are so busy they simply don't have the time more than the briefest moment with you when you order, and forget about them ever coming back to check up on you.
                                3. The food is no better than what you would get at a greek place in a food court at the mall. Dried out and mostly pre prepared (as evidenced by the fact that your food will be in front of you two minutes after ordering). Plus the food quality is obviously very low, almost everything comes with a side of "greek" rice which is essentially just buttered Uncle Ben's rice with some diced carrots and peas.
                                I'm not talking about plating, portion sizes and molecular gastronomy here folks, I'm talking bad at the basest level. Dirty room with bad service and pre prepared food made with low quality ingredients. Why would anyone eat there, I suspect it is mostly because it is cheap and has generous portions, and because many people still don't know that for a few dollars more you will definitely get a much much better meal just down the street. Either way, every time I drive by and see people waiting in line at this place it just baffles the mind.

                                On the other hand, we have lots of places in town that are very busy that have a well deserved reputation. One is just around the corner from my place downtown, it is a ramen shop called Kintaro and the food is excellent. They really only make one thing, Ramen noodles in a super flavourful broth along with a few accompaniments (gyoza, agedashi tofu etc...). The place often has a long line so I don't go as often as I would like, but I will often times brave the line to get a nice steaming bowl of ramen. It is a small room and quite tight, and admitedly lacking in ambience in the traditional sense, but it is spanking clean (the kitchen is bar style and totally open) and the food is delicious. Plus it is very reasonably price and the busy servers are exceedingly polite.
                                So I think you are right, some places are slamming busy but for the wrong reasons, while other places are great and may be deserving of that line up out the door.

                                1 Reply
                                1. re: delys77

                                  Near me is a burger place that's been open for about 35 years. It boasts the best burger in the county and they aren't lying. I actually live around the corner and it's so frustrating on a weekend night to have to wait for an hour to be served, but it's well worth it. It's funny when there is a burger place right next door which is empty and the line never stops at this place. On the other hand I have a place near me which is mobbed every night. It's a family restaurant with great service and good prices. The food is absolutely awful....almost worse than any processed or microwave food, but it's quick and accessible. Lines out the door.

                                2. We have a fabulous local steak place "The Rendesvous" that serves one of the best steaks for the money. They were always busy. If there was a line it moved quickly.
                                  Then "Boulder Creek" opened @ the shopping center. Their lines were out the door for a few months. Gradually the crowds made it back to old faithful.
                                  Boulder Creek lasted about 3 years and closed up.
                                  The Rendesvous is still there, still great and going strong.

                                  1 Reply
                                  1. re: Motosport

                                    Wow, the Boulder Creek near me lasted about seven to eight months and sadly, there weren't too many better places, but there was an Outback and while not saying Outback is comparable too any real steakhouse, it's not bad for the money and on my last visit, would put my steak up against some lesser steakhouses I've been to.

                                    1. re: adrouault

                                      But do you remember when it was called Patsy's or even after Patsy lost the court fight and had to change the name but he was still there every night? Totally worth the wait then. Line was longer after he sold the place which told me its was riding on hype then. Can't wait for Juliana's to open.