What Makes a Great Restaurant?

Great Restaurant

Even those of us who don’t go out to eat often should have a favorite restaurant that comes to mind immediately. And that favorite restaurant can run the gamut, from fast to fancy.

We may not always be able to put our fingers on exactly why we love a certain restaurant. It could be the food, or the people, or the particular occasion, but in any case, our love for certain restaurants stems from conscious decisions made on the part of the restaurateur.

What are those invisible things that make certain restaurants truly great? Turns out you can pinpoint those concepts in a few key buckets that all restaurateurs should keep in mind.

Tricks to a Great Restaurant

Consistent Atmosphere

Too often, the failing of a restaurant will be due to its lack of identity or personality. We’re starting with perhaps the hardest concept to nail down, and the one on which many restaurants stumble. Many restaurants refer to their personality as “atmosphere,” but it goes beyond the ambience and becomes the full restaurant package.

When approaching hypothetical investors about your restaurant concept, it’s important to always keep the “elevator pitch” in mind. This is the core message, in one or two phrases or sentences that perfectly sums up your restaurant atmosphere.

Even if you never approach an investor, let every decision about your restaurant flow from this hypothetical pitch. A restaurant with an elevator pitch of “upscale, down-home comfort food” should scream this concept, from intimate overhead lighting to servers with ties and aprons to hand-written chalk signage.

Consistent, Pride-Worthy Food

Consistent food partially stems from the concept of consistency in theme, atmosphere, and the “elevator pitch,” but is far more a factor of the back-of-house staff’s competence and knowledge of the menu backwards and forwards. Kitchen staff should be equipped to make anything on the menu at any time, in the same way, without a second thought.

Even on the busiest of nights, food quality should never suffer. That’s one of the main keys to a seamless, objection-less restaurant experience: there should never be a question of great food (except for human error in terms of ordering the wrong item, which can’t be helped). Part of this food quality stems from kitchen staff competence, while part stems from robust staff communication, which we’ll get to below.

And as a restaurant develops over time into that great, memorable location, repeat customers want consistency in their favorite dishes. This lends a sense of familiarity and comfort to a restaurant, as though it’s a dependable friend. Sitting down to your favorite dish at your favorite restaurant is a very similar experience to watching your favorite movie for the hundredth time. You know exactly what you’re going to get.

Outstanding Service

Listening is an art so often forgotten in the service industry. From host to busser, the ears of the staff should be open at all times to the needs of the customers, and the eyes of the staff should also be open to anticipate the needs that may go unspoken. A customer’s experience (and meal) can be greatly enhanced by filling just the smallest requests before the customer even knows he or she needs anything.

But this isn’t limited to giving in to a customer’s requests or (too often) demands. Pure listening, which leads to outstanding service, is anticipating what the customer really needs and turning request fulfillment into proactive needs management. “Would you like a…?” should turn into “May I offer you a…?” for a truly great experience in which the customer isn’t forced to think critically.

Outstanding service also stretches beyond the confines of the customer-server interaction. So many restaurants flounder when it comes to inter-staff communication. Developing lines of dialogue between front- and back-of-house staff, as well as among servers, is critical to avoiding similar complaints and snuffing out problems before they become larger.

Knowledgeable Staff

A job in the food service industry is still essentially a sales job, too. Another thing that can send a restaurant from the good category to the truly amazing it the knowledge level of the staff. And it’s not just knowledge, but confidence. Good staff should serve as a seamless source of information and request fulfillment at all times.

Truly great restaurants fill their staff rosters with folks not just out to wait tables for the season, but instead with those who truly have a passion for feeding people and creating an experience for them. Or, if the staff isn’t completely passionate about experiential restaurant attendance, those working at a great restaurant should take pride in their work and commit to the best customer experience possible.

“I’m going to have to ask” or “I don’t remember” aren’t acceptable sentences in great restaurants. Confidence and a can-do attitude should always fill the rare gaps where knowledge falls short.

Something we mentioned above is the ability of the kitchen staff not only to know the menu like the backs of their hands, but also to understand each member’s role in the kitchen and be able to perform that role seamlessly throughout a meal service. It’s a tangible feeling when a staff really works together.

Something for Everyone

Great restaurants need to be ready for anything. This notion really encompasses all the previous points into one overarching notion of adaptability. A great restaurant experience at least partially comes from great company, and great company can be greatly enhanced by meeting the needs of each person at the table.

While having a broad-ranging menu is one option, it’s not the only option. Staff confidence, knowledgeability, and ability to listen can ensure that even the pickiest of eaters (barring those with allergies) can find things to eat, on or off the menu.

Having something for everyone also means meeting all needs, and anticipating them well in advance. This can mean a well-stocked stack of high chairs, ample room for disabled customers, or just a selection of top-shelf liquors for those with discerning tastes. Even those restaurants with relatively limited concepts can take steps to meet a variety of needs and desires, because every party will have as many different tastes as there are people in the party.

Chances are, if you take the above criteria and apply it to your favorite restaurant, it may start to make sense why you go back time and again. It could be one, two, or all five of these components that attract you, but in the end, it takes consistent atmosphere, dependable food, a knowledgeable and service-oriented staff, and a sense of adaptability to turn good restaurants into really great ones.