Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Food Frenzy (rant)

I'm not sure what led me to read a review of a restaurant I'll never visit, but I followed a link from Twitter and read this scathing review of Guy Fieri's American Kitchen & Bar.  It got me thinking about some of my pet peeves about dining out.

My husband and I eat out a lot.  Almost every day, in fact.  Without going into how expensive and potentially unhealthy that can be, it has exposed me to a lot of different types of restaurants.  We like trying out new places and generally prefer locally-owned businesses to chain restaurants, though we're not restaurant snobs and are just as likely to eat at Denny's as at a local ethnic food bistro.  We also like watching cooking shows on Food Network, including Restaurant: Impossible, which features chef Robert Irvine giving failing restaurants a makeover. 

One of the changes commonly seen on Restaurant: Impossible is putting the menu on a weight-loss program.  I don't mean reducing the fat or calories of the food, but slimming down the number of items on the menu.  A lot of restaurants, especially chains, try to be everything to every potential customer.  By trying to satisfy too many different food preferences, these restaurants end up doing a lot of mediocre dishes instead of doing a smaller number really well.  I've noticed that lately restaurants in general seem to be buying into the menu-reduction philosophy; an old-school family restaurant near our home that used to specialize in a combo of traditional American dishes and Greek food recently gave their menu a big reduction.  They still feature Greek food, but it no longer gets lost in pages of burgers, steaks, pasta and seafood.  Even Denny's seems to have caught on to that idea; their menu is no longer made up of pages and pages of breakfast items. I heartily approve of this trend.  It makes it much easier for me to figure out what I'm going to eat, and I feel more confident that the food will be good when the chefs don't have to know how to make hundreds of different styles of dishes.

But there are other trends that seem to be spreading that I'm not too fond of.  One of the big ones is the proliferation of "sports restaurants", with televisions bombarding diners with sports events in the dining area.  The family diner I mentioned above has jumped on this bandwagon.  Not all of their TVs show sports, but if I want to watch tv while I eat, I'll get takeaway and eat at home on my sofa.  Last night we went to BJ's, a chain of "sports bar" style restaurants, and were subjected to our neighbor at the next table shouting at the tv overhead as he watched a football game, interrupting his conversation with his companion and annoying us (we're not sports fans).  If you want to watch the game, especially if you're going to yell directions at the players (they can't hear you, by the way), why don't you stay home? 

Even more irritating than the sports tv is the random unnecessary television in the restaurant.  Why do you need a tv in a Thai restaurant?  A neighborhood Thai restaurant in our area has a tv in the waiting area.  Fortunately they keep the sound off, but other than entertaining guests waiting for a table, there doesn't seem to be any reason for the presence of the television.  At least if you're going to put a tv in a Thai restaurant, show video of Thailand, not Judge Judy.

Noise is another peeve of mine in restaurants, especially in some of the chains like Applebee's or Red Robin.  Evidently restaurant designers don't believe in any kind of noise reduction.  Red Robin is the worst; it's often so noisy in their locations that we can hardly have a conversation.  I like their food, so it's frustrating to have to cope with the noise to enjoy something I like. Of course it would help if customers wouldn't all talk so loudly, but really the designers should take noise into account when they choose materials and floor plans of these places.

So many restaurants seem to be designed entirely for looks, not for any kind of patron comfort or server convenience.  Don't put a table right in front of the kitchen entrance. Don't make customers have to dodge servers when they want to get to the restrooms.  Make the booths big enough that adults can sit in them, but don't set the seats so far from the tables that customers can't sit back comfortably.  Choose chairs that won't squeal when people move them around on hard surfaces. Don't put carpet on the floor (ick!). Don't try to cram three restroom stalls into a space that will really only hold two - customers' bums should not touch the stall divider (I experienced that just a few days ago).  Don't put so many informational placards and condiments on the tables that there's no room for the food.  Maybe I should become a commercial space designer.  These things just seem obvious to me. Is anyone in the restaurant business listening?

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