14 Characteristics That Make A Great Restaurant

18October 2020

14 Characteristics That Make A Great Restaurant – Restaurants exhibit characteristics that make those eating places worthy of your repeated visits. We examine those characteristics that make restaurants great.

14 Characteristics That Make A Great Restaurant

      1. High-quality Food
      2. A Coherent Wide-ranging Menu
      3. Range of Drinks
      4. Surroundings
      5. Customer Reviews
      6. Restaurant Satisfaction
      7. Practical and Creative Management Team
      8. Hygiene And Cleanliness Reign Supreme
      9. Service Uniqueness
      10. Social Media Participation
      11. Value for Money
      12. Location
      13. Parking Facilities
      14. Ambience


Here we examine those characteristics I consider that make a restaurant great.

When spending your money eating out in a restaurant, you most certainly expect to have an experience that is unarguably much more memorable than you would ordinarily get at home.

You expect to have a wonderful time deliberately indulging in and enjoying what you hope to be the perfect restaurant surroundings.

On the other hand, if you are a restaurant owner, you want to put measures in place to impress your customers well enough to make them come back as happy customers, who not only spread the word about you but bring even more customers to your door.

Unfortunately, you only get to know how good a restaurant is by visiting, enjoying the services, watching how others get served, seeing how the restaurant handles demanding customers, and generally seeing how the ebb and flow of the restaurant.

So, what characteristics or qualities would you expect that would make you want to visit it time and time again in a great eating place?

In this article, I look at the characteristics of a restaurant that I consider essential to label that restaurant as being significant.

01. High-Quality Food Consistently, It Matters

A good restaurant that values its customers will go to lengths to set high standards for its food quality. Quality food and tasty can earn a restaurant a solid reputation and compel guests to visit again and recommend it.

The ingredients used, the process, the hygiene, and the cooks’ skills contribute to food consistency.

02. A Coherent Wide-Ranging Menu Matters

By food above, I’m referring to the range of food described by the restaurant’s menu. It is the menu that controls what your visitors eat. It is what your staff knows about and what they serve.

It is this that the chefs and kitchen put their effort and energy into getting just suitable for their guests. It represents what people have chosen and for which their mouth waters in anticipation.

But a menu that works needs to be coherent, logical and wide-ranging in what it offers. It should always include current specialities allowing the restaurant to stamp their food authority on your experience.

It is these specialities that power people’s desire to drive long distances to visit your establishment over and over.

03. It’s All About the Drinks.

Almost as soon as we’ve settled at the table, we ordered something to drink.

It’s always slightly negative if, for any reason, the drink you prefer is not available. So great restaurants will be sure to stock all the basic drinks that their clientele demands, including those for children. 

04. About the Surroundings, It Matters

A great experience comes partly from the surroundings. Of course, this applies not only to shops but to restaurants too.

A few years ago, I visited a restaurant and waited to be seated. The lighting in the place was excellent, and it was not too busy. I was busy looking around as my wife followed the waiter as directed.

I then realised that he had walked us across the restaurant and sat us down at a table almost under the stairs!

Not only were we almost beneath the stairs, but we were away from the other diners. We found this strange and unacceptable, and it made me mad.

As he went to get a menu or something, we re-seated ourselves someplace we preferred.

Seating us in a “bad” part of the restaurant was one thing, but we could vividly imagine the tiny particles of dust floating down from above onto our food as people walked past, on the stairs above us.

Interestingly, the waiter seemed un-surprised that we had relocated ourselves when he returned.

A good restaurant, when appropriately managed, is like a painting done well. Everything fits together, and nothing jars or is out of place. The surroundings are like the background of that painting.

There should have never been a table almost beneath the stairs in that location.

05. Customer Reviews, They Matter

When comparing restaurants for yourself, consider what other guests have to say about the food quality you can expect at the restaurant. Reviews now are everywhere.

They don’t always tell the whole picture, but they can help decide.

Digital age – These days, people assume they can leave comments about their eating out experiences at your establishment. And similarly, visitors expect to be able to read reviews when making restaurants choices.

Frightening – I can imagine this state of affairs being alarming for more traditional eating places. Giving praise to an eating place for the entire world to read (and further comment on) is a relatively new phenomenon.

It’s all about giving people the information to make their best choices.

Reputational damage – On the flip side, telling the world about your experience on the spot can damage an eating place’s reputation. People often leave negative reviews when they fail to get their way with the restaurant.

Experiences – Anyway, just as people leave comments, you may want to pay attention to what people say about their experiences with your restaurant, as an owner or the restaurant as a guest.

At the same time, a modern business will often want to get reviews. Reviews can bring advantages, but that discussion is outside the scope of this article.

06. Restaurant Satisfaction, It Matters

Another quality that makes you rate a restaurant as excellent and should consider when seeking a restaurant is the overall experience you gain by visiting. 

Not every eating place will greet you at the door, but it’s sensible to expect quality service from them right from the outset for restaurants with a reputation.

You can measure the service you receive by asking yourself questions such as these:

      1. How did I get to my table when I arrived at the eating place? Was I escorted there or otherwise?
      2. Was I greeted courteously on arrival? 
      3. Did I positively get acknowledged on entry, or was a shrug involved? 
      4. Did I get the eye contact I would reasonably expect from those that attended to me on my way in? 
      5. Did I have to wait longer than reasonable to get ushered to my table, like in the old days or were people expected to choose a table and sit wherever they wanted? 
      6. Was there someplace to hang our coats? 
      7. Were the waiters attentive? Were they open to being needed, or did you have to wait forever to catch their eye to get another drink? 
      8. How interactive and friendly were the staff? 
      9. Was the environment clean enough to your liking? 
      10. Were the waiters knowledgeable?
      11. Were the waiters competent, and how fast did they deal with issues that arose? 
      12. Did any issues arise, and did they get to resolved quickly and in good time?

I compare restaurants, especially first impressions, using a list like this when I visit.

Were you allowed to depart the restaurant, or were you escorted to the door and sent on your way? 

Being escorted away from the table is as personal as it can get and is a hallmark of great restaurants. Not all eating places carry such a culture, but the great ones are well aware of the value of giving personal service. 

Keeping customers satisfied is perhaps the most valuable key point indicator of the restaurant’s management staff. (Satisfied customers are prone to returning or telling their friends and family).

And to keep that indicator in the right place, one would expect staff to do everything reasonable to ensure that all visitors have the most pleasant experience, every time. 

Food Consistency – It’s impossible to provide quality food without finding a way to do what matters over and over repeatedly. McDonald’s restaurant worked this all out a very long time ago to their advantage.

That’s why their food, whether or not you like it, is the same the world over. Restaurants that have been around for a long time also tend to get these things right.

Staff Training – A great management team will also have trained their staff to handle the many varieties of people that visit. And it is customary to expect that staff will be knowledgeable enough to assist with helping customers make food choices, primarily if the restaurant has a comprehensive menu.

Also, a restaurant’s reviews will ordinarily help you determine how great it is at serving its customers. So, you can vote with your feet and with your wallet.

It is reasonable to expect to see a consistent set of good reviews.

People with great experiences will want to repay the kindness of the restaurant by saying nice things. It’s sensible to pay attention to those reviews away from the best and the worst comments.

Often reviews with the highest ratings are written internally or by friends. And the worst ones are too often subjective and not measured in what they say. Too often, low emotional-laden personal reviews hurt small businesses, so I rarely do them.

Ideally, one would reasonably expect a well-known restaurant to have hundreds or thousands of reviews. The larger the number of reviews, the better.

07. An Effective Management Team, It Matters Highly

The restaurant’s management team plays a huge role in running the restaurant daily. All its strategies should be about ensuring that it satisfies its customers.

Conversations without you – The rise of social media makes it possible for visitors to have conversations about your business without you being present. Business owners have realised that what they do inside their organisation, concerning customer service, has a massive impact on what customers write.

Suddenly, their reputations are on public display from nowhere and without warning.

Subjective reviews – So, the most competent companies will bend over backwards to resolve customer issues, despite the often amazingly emotional circumstances possible because they realise that “winning” short term skirmishes, with sometimes unfair individuals, is not what matters.

Long term – It is the long-term development and evolution of their business that matters most.

What measures have the management put in place to smooth out the running of the business? Is the staff supervised in terms of service delivery and customer handling? 

Great restaurants will have a management team that is dynamic, creative and knows how to handle issues as they arise.

As a customer, you also want to know that you can get support and help with anything you could need while in the restaurant and have your pleas listened to and offered solutions.

08. Hygiene & Cleanliness, It Matters Most

Hygiene is one characteristic of a restaurant that can make it or break it. With bad hygiene (see my other comment below about hygiene), a business can get closed down, can cause illness (or even death in some extreme cases).

Hygiene, as a topic, consistently receives the management team’s attention and, especially these days carries as much priority as the overall takings for the evening.

09. Service Uniqueness, It Matters

Why your restaurant – When looking to enjoy themselves at a restaurant, most people tend to look at what makes it different and worth trying. 

    • Is it that the eating place has a creative menu? 
    • Is it the cooking style that makes its food unique? 
    • Or does it have a secret recipe that is worth trying repeatedly? 
    • Maybe what matters to you is the chef who visits your table asking if the food is to your liking. 

Any restaurant with an effective team will have already determined what it does or uses that sets it apart from the competition. Loyal visitors will find that unique something they enjoy from your restaurant.

They’ll make sure they take the time to enjoy it – all for having a memorable time. Sadly, not every restaurant has an effective team. 

Here’s a quick anecdote of a situation where the restaurant owner got it wrong.

“Several years ago, before the advent of social media, I visited an Indian restaurant. When we entered, I noticed people on the left of the door, near the entrance. I assumed they were takeaway customers. 

We got ushered to a table by a pleasant but scruffily-dressed man, who later turned out to be the owner!

We were the first in the restaurant, and as we settled ourselves, the music came on – it was rock n roll! It confused me. It made no sense considering we were seated in an Indian restaurant serving Indian food.

Adorning the walls were images of various pop stars, with many in poses of strumming guitars. A giant poster on the wall invited people to attend a live rock and roll event in a few weeks – they intended to use the musician to attract visitors and get more business.

The restaurant door opened, and a man came in, known to the proprietor. As he spoke to the owner, I realised that he was the delivery driver. 

When the waiter came to take my order, the waiter, as it turned out, was the delivery driver that had just walked in. I did not expect the delivery driver to be the waiter, so I misunderstood his intentions.

Neither looking nor sounding like the waiter I expected, I got somewhat confused and thought he asked me something about needing a taxi. I linked him with the car parked out front and not part of the restaurant staff.

My brain was befuddled. Embarrassingly, it took me a bit too long to make sense of the situation, but I figured it out in the end.

Luckily for us, the food was delicious”.

So, from that experience, I concluded the following.

    • Restaurants need to look like what they are supposed to be.
    • The music you hear needs to keep with the kind of restaurant. 
    • To avoid confusing guests, waiters and waitresses should wear clothing, perhaps a uniform, that matches the restaurant. There should be no doubt to anyone who the waiters are. Top-class restaurants have figured this out.
    • People travelling outside in external clothes should not be waiting on or serving at tables – this avoids breaking the well-known hygiene laws.
    • The surroundings (walls, smells, sounds, etc.) must be consistent with what people expect to see. 

In short, a business needs to be as people would reasonably expect; otherwise, it makes people uneasy and confuses diners.

10- Social Media Participation – It Matters

These days visitors to restaurants are more vocal than ever. Many will make their thoughts known. If they are motivated, they’ll do it, either to you directly as owner or to the world straight from their phone while sitting in your restaurant.

Direct to Instagram or Facebook – They’ll even include images to back up what they’re saying or seeing, all without your knowledge or permission.

Social Media – Therefore, the ability to know what people are saying about your restaurant is one reason why every business should today be using social media. And social media gives you purpose, letting people know you’re there and active.

You can use it to manage and repair your reputation too.

With it, you can, at the very least, attempt to improve any misunderstandings you may have with demanding diners or about difficult circumstances that may have been out of the restaurant’s control.

Without social media, how difficult would that be?

There are always, of course, other factors to consider. Some of them are outside of the restaurant’s control.

11 – Value for Money – It Matters

My honest thoughts are about the prices charged by the restaurant. Whatever the cost, people are often willing to pay for excellent service if the value is worth the money.

So it is the value for the money, as perceived by the customers, that matters.

Of course, this provision of value for money is directly under the restaurant’s control. The extent to which restaurants can charge what they charge (i.e. their pricing) gets based on their positioning in the market.

And instinctively know the sort of prices we can expect to pay at any given restaurant because the positioning comes through the pricing. Looking at how much a glass of wine costs beforehand will hint at your overall bill.

Perceptions of value

Know that how people perceive value for money depends not only on their socio-economic level (i.e. how much you earn or how wealthy you are, or how comfortable you feel about your future) but also on the meal occasion itself.

For example, you may be willing to pay more for a celebration than for a meal out because you can’t be bothered to prepare a meal, cook then wash up one evening.

Menu Items

Look a the items on the menu – Is lobster on the menu or caviar?

A quick calculation of the per head cost will give a clue. For some working-class people, £300 would be acceptable.

For others, business owners, for example, a meal for two for £600, plus tips would be considered excellent value for money. It’s all about financial levels.

So, establishments typically charge higher prices can justify the value for money is essential.

Discretion & Privacy

There’s yet another aspect of value for money. Certain people will pay handsomely for the privacy that often accompanies high prices.

Some people value knowing that only other high-value people of a similar ilk will most likely sit alongside them in a restaurant.

This expectation is the same way that those who pay handsomely for a room in an exclusive hotel (for example, celebrities or heads of companies) know confidently that, barring accidents, they will not find themselves in the corridor (or elevator) with someone they least likely want to encounter. i.e. fans or journalists!

Or those who would travel first class knowing they would only be sitting alongside people of a similar socio-economic group.

12- Location, It Matters

The most obvious is that the restaurant’s location matters. How easy it is to get to matters too. Here are some obvious questions that help with this.

      1. Are there excellent transport links nearby?
      2. Is there a bus stop nearby?
      3. Is it a short walk or cab ride away from the nearest train or tube station?
      4. Is the location away from other similar businesses or eating places?
      5. Are there directions from embarkation points to your establishment?

13- Parking, It Matters

Closely tied to the idea of location is the issue of parking. Restaurants may or may not have control of this.

But knowing if parking is available (or not) is one more positive facet in the decision-making process of choosing exactly where to eat.

14- Ambience, It Matters

The ambience is more than the surroundings. The atmosphere forms from what you do (and permit your customers to do – smoking, talking loudly on their phones, using laptops, etc.) with your surroundings to make it especially conducive for visitors while eating.

For example, music may create a better ambience than without, but playing too loud could ruin it.

Of course, the ambience is more than just the music. The lighting matters too.

And so do the smells that come from the kitchen. How closely tables get placed together matter.

Also important is the placement of toilets and how they get used and cleaned.

The temperature matters, and so does the proximity of your table relative to the cold entrance-way

Conclusion – 14 Characteristics That Make A Great Restaurant

So, from the discussions above, it should be clear that the characteristics that make a restaurant great are many.

If you’ve attended any restaurants recently where the staff and management team were exemplary, or you have a different view, then list us know in the comments below.

Don McDonald

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