Quantifying a "Good" or "Bad" Restaurant
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.