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Which do you remember longer, a restaurant's food, or its decor?

When my husband and I go on road trips every few months, we often take the 'scenic byways' that parallel the interstate. We've stopped at interesting restaurants with great food in many small towns and cities.
These little places start to get all jumbled up in my head, and DH will try and jog my memory by telling me what we ate.
More often than not, I'll ask him about the decor and where we sat in the room.. "Was that the one where we sat in a small room on the right and the walls were wood?" or "did we sit on high stools and they had the best bathroom ever?"
I don't know what I had at the wood wall place, but I know the field peas were killer at the one with the stools and the cool bathroom.
I remember floors and fabrics, chairs and room placement. He remembers the food and the wait staff. Usually once we put all those together, I can get a pretty clear picture of the place.

We're heading out tomorrow for a two week trip up to Philadelphia, Schenectady, Saratoga Springs and down to Charleston, then back home to Atlanta. Maybe I should take pictures!

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  1. all i remember is the food.
    the name of the restaurant, it's location, the decor, all lost to me in no time.

    1. usually one or the other, almost never both.

      1. Food is what I remember.

        Although, when I write a review, I do sometimes comment on other aspects - decor (rarely), tables too close together or too small (quite often), uncomfortable chairs (more often than I'd wish)

        1. One hopes that the food is memorable, and one hopes the decor is not, unless of course it is truly stunning.

          1. Yes taking pictures of wherever you ate sounds like a good idea.
            One of my all time favorite phrases: "road trip".

            1. Unless the decor is something truly exotic/over the top I'm not likely to remember the decor...................

              That said, I do remember eating in the Charleston Gardens in the B. Altman department Store on 5th Ave in NYC in the eraly 60s. I can still picture the gorgeous murals of the flora and fauna on the walls and that the tables had litlle shelves (similar to school desks) where shoppers could place small parcels or handbags while dining. The walls and furniture were a deep cream color.

              I remember eating in a restaurant at the Alladin Hotel in Las Vegas in 1980 that was done up like a Bedouin Tent. I ate reclining on cushions and and had baba ganough, kibbeh and string beans in a tomato sauce.

              The Post Office Tower in London and the CN tower in Toronto (1981) were memorable not for the decor, but the views of the city from the revolving restaurants. The food was absolutely unmemorable.

              In 1986 I had a fantastic braised veal tongue with horseradish (with a split of champagne) in the dining room of the Central Hotel near the Bahnhof in Zurich. I remember nothing about the restaurant decor, but could describe every bite of that delicious meal.

              Similarly, The cafe on the first floor of the Hotel Pulitzer in Amsterdam had (IMHO) the best pate I've ever eaten. I had lunch there 5 days in a row in 1983, ordering a plate of the pate with toast and a botte of champagne. The decor was bright light wood/modern and the windows overlooked a canal. I've been back a number of times since for the food not the decor.

              I do take note and remember decor elements of restaurants we frequent. Thus, I might tell the hostess, don't seat us near the fireplace, it's too hot, or the right dining room has a step up that MIL can't easily negotiate. But if the decor is unoffensive I probable pay little attention.

              Mrs. B is a professional builder/designer, she will take much more notice of the decor than I.

              B daughters are likely to take pix of their plates, never the decor.

              1 Reply
              1. re: bagelman01

                I am a kitchen designer and space planner by trade, and though interior design is not part of my scope, I end up by default being involved in those decisions, too. And I think that influences my experience of any space.

                I know I've had some very good meals at restaurants, but very few that I couldn't do better myself at home (I do get inspiration from many dishes I've had) . Though a few here have posted that the decor should be special or even stunning to be memorable, I really can visualize the dives in all their gritty, long toothed hominess, much more than the trendy modern bistros.

              2. This is an interesting topic, apparently I am a decor guy. One of my favorite restaurants has an absolutely beautiful decor/ambiance to me. Big private booths, palm tree's, large ceiling fans, and a piano player and singer on weekends. To me it's very "Casablanca"-ish in its style. I have been going to this restaurant for close to 20 years and has always been my "go-to" fine dining establishment.

                Well I posted my rave's for this place on Chow a time or two and was very surprised at the luke warm reception my comments received, with some people actually completely disagreeing with me and trashing the place. This got me to pay much more attention to the details in my subsequent visits, and the more attention I paid, the more I realized most of my happy memories of the place were exactly that, memories. While I still LOVE the ambiance, the more attention I was paying to my meals and service, the more I was realizing the people on Chow were correct, and the overall dining and food experience had slipped greatly from when I had first started going there.

                I guess I was just so "happy" to be in my comfort zone there.....I stopped paying attention to the quality of the food and service. After about 5-6 consecutive disappointing experiences (by disappointing I'm not saying bad or lousy but at $50+ per plate you shouldn't always have one dish that is very disappointing, cold, under cooked or something wrong 5-6 consecutive times) I've decided to give it a rest for awhile and stop going.

                I would have never thought that decor or ambiance was such a distraction for me, but Chow has taught me it is!

                1. As a self-professed Chowhound, I have to say that the Chow comes first.

                  Décor and ambiance do play into it, as does service. But they are all subjective.

                  If I'm in a takeout joint with a few tables, well, the food might be the ONLY reason I go there, as there is seldom any semblance of décor or ambiance, and service may and/or may not exist.

                  If I am in a white tablecloth restaurant, I expect the full service package of décor and ambiance that the prices charged for the same food as a take-out joint suggest I am paying for.

                  I also, if I choose on my own, much prefer a wood paneled, dark, friendly, genuine atmosphere that is warm and comfortable.
                  A very bright or even WHITE restaurant that is cold and blinding is uncomfortable for me and no matter the food, will be quickly dismissed and the food and the place forgotten.

                  1. For all the memorable food experiences I've had, I can describe the dish, where I was sitting, who was with me, the name of the restaurant, the circumstances leading to why I happened to be there but I couldn't begin to describe the decor anywhere (although I'm pretty sure I remember what the plates looked like).

                    1. Decor, by a long-shot!

                      I remember the food (details) only a small percentage of time. I always remember if I liked the food enough to go back or not, but unless it was a really high end tasting menu/small plates kind of special meal, I don't remember details.

                      I always remember the general decor and ambiance (including view, noise level, energy, comfortable chairs, pace, lighting, smells, cleanliness, privacy level, etc). That has to be right for my needs for that day- or I won't go back. For a new place, I pay attention to the overall atmosphere for "future reference" to return, if it was a wrong choice on that day ( like I was hoping for quiet that day, but got high energy but good food instead).

                      I can get good food in many places, but I am always looking for the right combination of atmosphere and food for my mood at the time.

                      3 Replies
                      1. re: sedimental

                        I like your perspective very much (in spite of the fact that I never did sleep last night while 'Simply having a wonderful Christmas time' spun around in my noggin).

                        1. re: kitchengardengal


                          Sorry about that. I know it was a bit evil. If you feel any better, that damn stupid song kept worming it's way into my head after I posted the lyrics.

                          Serves me right!!!

                          1. re: sedimental

                            Well, yeah, it kinda does make me feel better! Thanks. :-)

                            Tonight we are in Staunton VA, and dinner will be either at our hotel (the Stonewall Jackson Hotel) , or at the old train Depot. We've been to the Depot (DPO) before. I don't recall what I had, but Hubby says it was good. I do know I liked it enough to take my leftovers back to the B&B, but then forgot them in the fridge there the next morning (it was some kind of sandwich I was going to snack on during the ride home).
                            Anyway, the other choice for dinner here at the hotel is unknown. Apparently the restaurant is open at the pleasure of the chef. This is a beautiful 1924 hotel downtown that had a 21mil renovation 10 years ago. Absolutely gorgeous place!


                      2. Depends on which -- the food or decor -- was worse.

                        3 Replies
                          1. re: Gastronomos

                            Ipse said "worse", what you have pictured there my friend is a "win, win". Oh yeah........make that a lamb gyro with extra tzatziki sauce.


                        1. Great question!!! I think it would depend on which of them was out of the ordinary. If the food was so delicious and the decor/view/ambiance was nothing to write home about - I'd remember the food. However, if a restaurant was particularly quaint, had a great view or had out of the ordinary decor, I would probably remember that more than the food, even if the food was wonderful. What I can say, though, is that for me, decor/ambiance is as important as the food (so restaurants - take note!)

                          We too travel the byways - always. I've met the nicest people and made the best of friends that way. I think you get a more authentic feeling of the area/food/people - especially when overseas (and you can get the best recipes!)

                          1. The food is first and foremost in my mind. Then the location, ambience etc..

                            1. It depends on what makes the stronger impression, either good or bad. Some food is unforgettable because it's ethereal, and some food is unforgettable no matter how hard you try. Same for decor.

                              1. If the decor was more memorable than the food, I would wish to memory-hole the entire experience.

                                1 Reply
                                1. re: janniecooks

                                  That's how I felt after a lousy $50 lunch at Rainforest Cafe.

                                2. I remember the food and an impression of the quality of service much more than decor. I gendrally only remember the decor if I find it not to my liking.