When one goes to eat in a restaurant, one does not only pay for the food. If it was a question of food, I’d as sooner eat at home and spend much less. However, going out and eating a particular dish in a particular place means that one will be paying for the whole deal. That is, the atmosphere, the service, the food, the bar scene, etc.
Being not only a critic of life in general, but someone who uses writing as a means of expression, I love using websites such as Tripadvisor.com and Booking.com (not to mention similar pages on Facebook) whose aim is to ‘rate’ and / or comment on particular restaurants and wine bars around Malta and Gozo. After a while, the routine of commenting online on the service received after a night out in a particular restaurant or even hotel, became natural, and I became adept at not only noticing certain things more quickly, but also appreciating them more.
Here are things I look out for when choosing the restaurant for the evening, but also while I am there.
Are you going out to eat with friends for a relaxed night out? Is it a romantic date, an anniversary, perhaps? A boisterous birthday party? Do you feel like eating Chinese food, Arabic, Greek, or Indian? Or how about a Mediterranean buffet lunch? One must consider not only the occasion to be celebrated, but also what one wants from the event, before one even goes there. Knowing what to expect makes it easier to measure what one actually finds in a restaurant or wine bar, when one actually gets there.
As soon as one enters a place, one starts immediately to (sometimes subconsciously) associate it with an idea or a feeling. Some restaurants put you at ease with their friendly décor or individualised centre pieces, for example, while others make you feel as though you are entering into a different world, one where you can relax and enjoy the moment. Appetising aromas titillate the senses and stimulate you to sample the menu even more, while wine bars with tasteful jazz music in the background put you in an ideal frame of mind to socialise with friends.
Were you welcomed and taken to your table immediately or did you have to wait for hours for the waiters to even acknowledge you? Did they give you time to go through the menu or just barge in on you in order to take the order and be done with it? How long did the food take to arrive? Was the staff courteous and neat?
Were the items presented as specified in the menu? If you ordered the meat to be cooked medium-rare, was this satisfactorily done? How about plate / platter presentation? Were the portions too small or not as expected? Were the veggies and fruit fresh?
Was the menu clearly understandable and were the items correctly priced? Did it concur with the menu present on the restaurant’s website (if there was one)? Did the staff clearly indicate which items were not available on that particular day? What about the amenities? Was the lighting in the bathroom suitable and did the facilities provide all that was needed? Was there a well-stocked bar and were you satisfied with it?
Last but not least, did the price paid reflect your evening? In other words, was it worth it?
Certain places, I am sorry to say, place great value on marketing their decor and the individual attention given to customers. However, what they don’t tell you is that the food is not fresh or that the portions are too small. Others still, provide ample portions and delicious food, yet take ages to take an order, not to mention to actually deliver the food itself.
Personally, all of these points are important for me to spend an enjoyable evening, and, having worked honestly for my money, I am actually quite angry when I find myself being fleeced out of it by some wannabe-poshy place whose only asset is its name. That is why afterwards I make sure not only to give my personal feedback online, but also through word of mouth to family and friends. Freedom of speech is there for a reason, after all!
Another tip: when booking a table anywhere, ask if there is available parking at the premises. Certain restaurants do not have their own parking, yet offer special discounts when one uses hotel parking spots nearby.