I was with some friends in a restaurant recently, and I began thinking about all the factors that make for a good restaurant. It’s not always as simple as just serving good food; there’s more to it than that, and I had a few tiny revelations about thew subject while nomming on my pork bun, our shared sushi and sashimi, and my pan-fried dumplings.
Of course, delicious, fairly priced food is the cornerstone upon which all other aspects depend. In that, there is no shortage of good restaurants in the world. However, it’s not enough to serve good food, as competition in the food service industry is fierce, and staying in business means doing more than just serving the very best comestibles. Serving alcoholic beverages is one way restaurants can increase their profit margin, and an eating establishment without a liquor-serving license is doomed to fail.
Restaurants these days do several things to discourage people from staying too long. The first, and simplest, is playing loud music – loud enough that conversation becomes nearly impossible. Music makes dancing more easy to enjoy, and some restaurants are set up for dancing. People dancing sweat and thus get thirsty, ordering more drinks, keeping the cash flowing into the business. People who want to eat with friends will go somewhere else for after dinner conversation, turning over the tables more quickly, allowing the establishment to serve more meals to more customers, increasing their chance for profit. Restaurants are businesses, after all.
Another ambiance trend that follows this line of progression is the industrial ceiling theory of restaurant design. Having bare ceilings, ductwork fully exposed (see photo above) – but perhaps painted black – is another insidious way to keep people from staying too long. Ceilings such as this tend to be very echo-y, again making conversation difficult when the room is full of people. I’m fairly certain this design is intentional – again, to keep people moving and increase the potential to serve more customers. It is, however, the antithesis of homey and comfortable, and I hate it.
I enjoy eating at restaurants – especially with the wide variety of cuisines available to me in the city where I live. However, restaurants are still businesses: they have to make enough money to stay in business, and food service is notorious for having small profit margins, as well as for paying their staff poorly. I try to tip well — tipping in cash when I can — and buying at least one beverage whether alcoholic or not. It helps keep the wheels turning, and for my favorite eateries, keeps them in business so I can enjoy their food again in the near future. Restaurants have changed a great deal since I was younger and not always for the better. Still, they do what they must to survive, and it’s tough to begrudge them that.