What Make Great Restaurants Great?


In Vancouver, the city that I call home, we have an estimated 5,000 restaurants. New York, roughly 24,000. London, England close to 40,000. And finally, my hometown of Halifax, approximately 200.

Now while these numbers vary, I can guarantee you that not all of the 24,000 restaurants in New York City are necessarily great spaces. And I know that not all of the 200 in Halifax have lineups out the door, these are just the facts. (However, truth be told, if you own a restaurant today in 2019 with food costs, rising real estate pricing, and labour issues, you are doing something right. If you are open for business day after day, kudos to you for fighting the good fight and helping this industry along.)

There are however the exceptions to the rule, the truly great restaurants that raise the bar when it comes to the food scene in a given city or even on a global scale. These restaurants are consistently being celebrated, supported and highlighted for their work and most of the time they deliver unlike most others in their space.

Today I want to take a moment to share the TOP THREE attributes that make up a truly great restaurant.

  1. Unapologetically True To The Concept: Great restaurants don’t deviate. I am not talking, they won’t sub avocado for fresh fruit, I mean they aren’t serving sushi at a BBQ joint. It is so easy to write a menu for “everyone”. Burgers and fries? check. Spaghetti & Meatballs? check. Chicken quesadilla? check. Vegan french toast? check. Great restaurant do not and will never do this. The concept simply cannot be, “We want to be everything to everyone!” Sorry but that just doesn’t work. The great spaces, the ones that you go back to all the time because they do (insert your favourite dish here) better than anyone else in the city, are the ones that truly set the tone and help to define the food culture in a city. Look for restaurants that don’t serve brunch perhaps, spots that don’t serve tacos, establishments that don’t serve draught beer. Once you’ve found them, dig deeper, find out why and I can almost always guarantee you it is because they have a vision, aand a concept they are unwilling to compromise on. Next ask them what they are known for an order that, always order that.

  2. Customer Service So Good You Want To Kiss The Waiter (Chef, Dishwasher, Hostess…..): Hospitality is something I spend so much time with my clients on and the one piece that lights me up so much as a consultant. As Eric Pateman so accurately put it on the Half A Dozen Hospitality Podcast, “I can cook. When I go out, I want to be looked after.”

    Have you ever watched a video where the images on the screen were a bit fuzzy but the audio was perfect? You likely weren’t too bothered by the tiny glitches in the video were you?

    Now, have you ever watched a video where the picture was crystal clear, I mean as HD as HD can get, but the audio kept cutting in and out, and and some points you couldn’t make out any words at all? You likely turned it off. Correct?

    This is the analogy I use with my clients when it comes to the importance of their service. When the food (the picture or video) is awesome, and the service (the audio) is firing on on all cylinders we have a pretty predictable winning system. However, if one of these things has to drop a bit, it cannot be the service.

    As the soundtrack to the overall experience, the service can always cover up a misstep here or there by the kitchen. But the kitchen can almost never make up for a misstep by the service team.

    Great restaurants know all of this intuitively, and they execute their service with a relentless effort, getting everything done that they can for their guests. And while the kitchen is still knocking it out of the park with the food, the incredibly high level of service on the frontlines disguises even the slightest miscue that may occur with the kitchen.

    Take note the next time you’re out, what is better, the video, or the audio? My bets are it is the audio that will truly make or break your experience.

  3. Gratitude: Great restaurants are the perfect mixture of humble shaken up with swagger all the while being thankful that their community is willing to line up and wait 2 hrs to get their crispy chicken sandwich or wait an hour to get “that table”.

    The sense of awareness that great restaurants have is an imperative attribute towards their success. By being able to perform at a high level and produce day after day and night after night is one thing, but to do it with a sense of grace, a sense of gratitude, it is these spaces that are destined to hold a special place in so many peoples minds and hearts. From Head Chefs highlighting exceptional farmers to the waitstaff volunteering at the local charity event, these business show a true understanding that without the other people involved, without the support, their business wouldn’t exist.

    Do some digging, ask around, and just keep your feelers out to see which restaurants in your area are not only executing on a high level but also showing up grateful for all of support they receive on the daily. Those are the great restaurants.