As food bloggers, we necessarily judge restaurants by their outward appearances, though we were raised not to judge, yes? Justified or not, our personal biases inform our choices as diners, or else we'd eat wide-eyed, like Candide, in every crap restaurant that would subject us to its horrors. Frankly, we need to discriminate (perhaps unfairly) and trust the gut-check.
With that preface, here's six do's and don'ts for restaurateurs who may not be aware of the image they're projecting.
1. Don't Call Yourself an “Eatery”
I know there's only so many words in the English language to concisely describe your restaurant's bill of fare. But calling it an eatery is unimaginative and lazy, and it tells the public nothing about your kitchen's focus, the style of decor, or the approximate cost of the bill. In American English alone, we have words like pub, cafeteria, coffee shop, diner, automat, and steak house, never mind all the foreign words we've absorbed into English. “Bistro,” “trattoria,” and “cantina,” just to name three, all communicate specific and meaningful contexts to your business.
Eatery? You may as well hang a sign outside that says “Food.” “Trough” is more descriptive of the food you'll get than “eatery.”
2. The Smaller The Menu, The Better The Food.
I'm not sure when the idea took hold that cramming more items onto a menu made a restaurant more appealing. Some of the most memorable food I've ever eaten was served at a highway rest stop in Mexico City. The abuelita patted out raw masa, filled them with cheese, meat, and vegetables, sealed them into a half-moon pocket and deep-fried the most amazing quesadillas. She was a one-trick chingona standing in a parking lot over a discada filled with hot oil, and I still think of her food over thirty years later.
My advice? Run a restaurant with a tight menu and make a narrow specialty to the best of your ability. Any place that makes pizza, burgers, fried chicken, and sandwiches probably doesn't do any of them exceptionally well.
[3. The Better The View, The Worse The Food
A restaurant's prime location will always lure customers regardless of their food quality, so the sad truth is that most of them don't have to make great food. There are some notable, high-end exceptions along our local coast where the expensive food justifies the cost, but I object to paying top dollar when the food blows. Same for our hilltop, “Mining Company” restaurants: they're passable for prom night, when the food quality isn't what you're worried about.
Unless I'm recommending a place for out-of-town visitors where having a stunning vista takes priority, I'll take the view at the Mulitas y Tacos Ruben truck over Laguna Beach's Las Brisas.
4. Naming Your Restaurant Something-“licious” Is Like Bragging You Have a 12-Inch Penis.
Don't choose a name you can't back up.Pholicious, I'm talking to you and the single worst bowl of pho and comically amateur service I've been subjected to, ever. Something-riffic is also a non-starter of a restaurant name. “Phoriffic” can be horrific, or terrific, probably the former.
5. Don't Use Chopsticks Font On The Signage For Your Chinese Restaurant
Are we still in the 1970's? Unless your restaurant is actually that old and you haven't spent any effort to redecorate, why are you still using Chopsticks font in this era of Linsanity? It just says “our image is dated, and probably, so is our food.” Though if it's bright-orange sweet and sour pork and moo goo gai pan you're seeking, you might have found your place.
6. “World's Best” Anything Isn't.
If you have to tell people how cool you are, you aren't. If you have signage outside that tells us how awesome your restaurant is, it ain't.