Quantifying a "Good" or "Bad" Restaurant
- njmarshall55 Mar 15, 2013 10:08 AM
Ok, fellow CH'ers...I'm an aerospace quality manager by trade. i deal in numbers and specifications. I don't deal in relative terms on a day to day basis. I just responded to a post about lousy restaurants in the best state in the union...New Jersey (hold the jokes, please, I've heard them all). But it got me to wondering...can one actually quantify certain activities of a restaurant to determine what "acceptable," or "good," or "bad," really are? There will, of course, always be those things that are just NOT quantifiable...too much salt, lousy attitude, dirty facilities...those can be handled by some sort of sliding scale (0 to 10...worst to best, for example). But how about...number of minutes from in the door to the table? number of times the waitstaff refills the water glass per hour? Even then, what one diner finds acceptable (20 minutes?), another diner would find intolerable. Guess I've answered my own question...we'd have to agree first on the metrics, then on the relative value of the metric....but still, I'd be interested in your thoughts.
< I just responded to a post about lousy restaurants in the best state in the union...New Jersey>
Why would NJ be the best state in the union especially about food? I live in NJ, and I really cannot say I have had great restaurant foods here -- on average.
<But how about...number of minutes from in the door to the table? number of times the waitstaff refills the water glass per hour? Even then, what one diner finds acceptable (20 minutes?),>
I think different people have different criteria and have different weighting factor. I believe most food magazines have some kind of metric in place and they judge on the food quality, food consistency, creativity, service, atmosphere,...etc. I personally tend to judge heavily on food quality and food consistency, and then comes food creativity, and then service....etc. This is normal for non-professional people like us. I weight atmosphere fairly low, but I still weight it.
<we'd have to agree first on the metrics,>
Actually we don't, and we won't. The reason is that culinary is an art, not engineering. So it is impossible for everyone to agree on the metrics and the weighting factors. In fact, when we get to the finer details of culinary cuisine, we will find what is highly value in one cuisine is looked down upon in another. Let's just look at Chinese cuisine. There are four major branches of cuisines in the so called Chinese cuisines, and some of their criteria contradict. A good Cantonese dish can be viewed as a poorly executed Szechuan dish, and this is within one country. We can also see that in our own country between the Tex Mex vs the Fresh Mex vs the traditional Mex. So I think to try to agree on the metrics can be very difficult.
Zagat gives numerical ratings for food, decor, and service. Those are the categories that really count. The ratings are averaged from numbers provided by voters; any more categories would be unwieldy and would discourage people from voting at all.
I rate restaurants on a simple yes or no scale.
Yes, I enjoyed my food and the experience and will go back.
No, I was not pleased, for whatever reason, and will not go back.
One that exceeded my expectations. Or, in some cases, just met them - but, wow, did I have high expectations of those places.
A "bad" restaurant?
One that came nowhere near to my expectations.
I cannot codify a restaurant's attributes, nor do I want to. A professional review website in my metro area scores restaurants out of 20 - 10 for food, 5 for service, 5 for ambiance. It scores not as absolutes but as comparision against similar places - so a back street dive and the city's top place are just as likely to score 20/20. It's as good a way as any, if you really must score these things. It's always going to be subjective - rightly so.
I'm an engineer, and I don't like it. There are thing that are quantifiable, but I don't it would be easy at all to calculate a score that would conform to my feeling of what makes for a good dining experience, let alone one that would work for others.
For example, it is easy to quantify the frequency at which the waiter comes to the table to check if anything is needed, but a simple metric doesn't work. You don't want the waiter coming by every two minutes, interrupting the conversation, and you don't want to be ignored for an hour when you need something. I remember one particular dinner at a restaurant when the waiter never interrupted, yet somehow appeared as soon as I was thinking I needed something. He was watching and paying attention. That's excellent service, but I don't know how to quantify it.
I remember another experience long ago when I noticed my waiter across a large room pick up the coffee carafe and turn towards me. I am a coffee drinker, but this was a place where there were few people drinking coffee. I signalled that I didn't need more coffee and he noticed, putting the carafe back and saving himself a long walk for nothing. This was excellent service again — he was paying attention to the customer. How do you quantify that when he didn't even come to the table?
How about time to deliver an entrée to the table after ordering? Easily measured. I remember ordering something once that arrived so fast it could only have been prepared ahead and microwaved. I didn't consider that a good experience.
The food is the main thing. How do you quantify that? Some aspects can be, such as portion size. But is bigger always better?
I can only think of one thing that can be quantified easily in a meaningful way — a glass of beer. What is the size and what does it cost? With that you can rank the choices for happy hour, provided they offer one of your preferred beers.
With regard to your story of the waiter never interupting, I would say your experience is the pinnacle of "good" service. To me, service should always be in the background so that you don't really notice that it's happening. It just does.
Things like knowing who is having which dish without asking (as a local bistro type place this week - there were six of us). Or spotting that your bottle of water is empty, approaching to remove it, so giving you the opportunity to order another. Or simply staff being "around", so you can attract the attention of someone if you need anything. Service like this means I can concentrate on my food and, more importantly, my companions.
I keep it simple. If either the food, service or cleanliness is bad..then I classify it as a "bad" restaurant..one that I would not return to or recommend.
Other than that..it's all good.
Cleanliness is important. If I walked into a restaurant and the first thing I saw was piles of dirty dishes..I'd turn right around and move on to the next place. If they can't keep the dining room clean..imagine what the kitchen looks like.
In terms of quantitative metrics, I'm going to join people in saying that you're always going to end up in the qualtitative realm.
However, in measuring numbers, I do think that there are areas where it's possible to be more quantiative. Once water glasses are empty or a bottle of water on the table is empty (whether just tap water or a purchased bottle) - that's when I think you can start timing servers for how long such aspects go unnoticed. When all diners have finished their meals - how much time before staff removes the plates. Basically points in the meal that require a server (most diners are essentially not able to refill their water glass, clear their dishes, or print out their bill).
I don't yet know what I'd consider to be the time to rank as "ideal" for how long before a server addresses such issues. But, in creating metrics - you could begin by just counting how much time it takes for service in these situations and compare it to qualtitative surveys about the service.
I think that ultimately there's the task of figuring out of which measurables are most subjective to personal preference (perhaps amount of time between courses) and which have greater consistency in what people want (perhaps the amount of time to get bill/pay).
"how much time before staff removes the plates"
Even in this, it's a qualitative issue. I'm in no hurry for waitstaff to remove our dinner plates; if they're too prompt in this, you might get the impression that they want you to leave. Especially if there's still some food on the plates, and it's not clear that you have finished eating. (Whatever happened to the custom of crossing knife and fork on the plate to signal "the end"?) I wouldn't mind if the tableware for the last things we eat and drink were still on the table when we call for the bill.
I am a psychometrician by training - that's measurement of psychological traits - so this is right up my alley.
If you really wanted to come up with a good scale of restaurant quality, I think it would take about a year of research and testing.
First, you'd want to come up with a large number of potentially relevant questions.
Second, you'd want to test that these "cover the field" of restaurant quality: This could be done by an expert panel - perhaps CHers and restaurant reviewers and so on.
Third, you'd test these in some focus groups of oridnary people to see if the questions are comprehensible and are getting at what you think they are getting at. You might want different focus groups from different ethnic groups, or other different groups. Then revise the questions and test some more.
Then you'd need to pilot test the instrument on a group of ordinary people. These results would be subject to item analysis, factor analysis, reliability testing etc. Again, revise and test some more.
Finally, you'd be ready to survey a large group.
One of the things I find a total waste of time is a review that says" this is a really good..." without any context. Quantifying a pleasurable ecperience is a matter of missing the point. When anyoe reports a PREFERENCE, explaining what about it made you happy should be described so others can make a valid, subjective comparison.
Zagat, Parker, others attempt to reduce evaluation to polling numbers. SIlly.
There are very important techniques to cooking, serving, presentation..Part of cooking is texture, flavor, balance. Some of this can be quantified, some cannot. Fast food uses engineering to play with taste and craving, but seriously, does anyone equate fast food with fine dining?
On the other hand, the psycholgy of dining is such that many will become so much part of the esperience that they cannot tell the real quality of what is served.
Experience also will play a role, as will sophistication of experience.
Finally, if you are on a life boat in the middle of the Pacific, raw fish or bird will become tasty to you (or shipmate) if you acclimated to it by starvation. (real study, BTW)