A tale of two.. no three.. Restaurants

What makes a good restaurant experience? What makes us say that place A is a great place to eat, while place B is only good to adequate? I think it boils down to expectations.

Today I went for breakfast at a place that is only one block from my house. The food isn’t all that spectacular. In fact, I abhor the home fries so much there, that I either replace them with something less offensice, or simply don’t eat them when they come with my omelette. And speaking of omelettes, they too are often uninspiring, dry, and…well…not good. So why do I continue to frequent that establishment?

Because I have gotten to know the wait staff there and because they let me read there without pushing me to get out. And let’s not forget the fact that it’s convenient, being only a block or so from home.

Every time I leave there, I am satisfied. My stomach is full, my book ususally has 20-40 more pages read. And sometimes the food isn’t that bad. But I go in there knowing that the food will more than likely be less than I could get elsewhere. My expectations are low, so they don’t have to work extra hard to meet them.

By comparison, there’s a Mexican chain in the Seattle area called “Azteca”, and there food is certainly not the best. Again, I eat there regularly because it’s the closest sit-down restaurant within walking distances from my work. If I need to get away from the 9-5 world for 45 minutes or so, I take a book there and read as well.

But I always feel cheated when I leave. Why? Because the restaurant chain has set my expectations a little higher. High gloss menus, music over the sound system, a note on the ‘family tradition’ surrounding the various recipes. And yet the restarant comes across as a Mexican version of Denny’s. It’s certainly no worse that the breakfast place near my house in terms of quality, but I feel less compelled to return there (in fact, I have since found a teriyaki place that replaced it as my lunch spot of choice).

Which brings me to last night. Tara and I spent the evening at Andaluca. As far as upper crust restaurants, it wasn’t bad. A glass of Pinot Noir, a starter of Fattoush Salad, skinless salmon for an entree and a spanish flan for dessert. Nothing complicated a all about my choices nor were my expectations set all too high. In fact, a made a point to say to Tara that I woulnd’t be reviewing the place, instead choicing to simply enjoy the evening. Which I did.

I could critique the food if I wanted. The chocoalte almond torte that Tara ordered was a bit too rich. The salmon, although good, didn’t blow me away. But these failings didn’t detract from the evening as a whole because I didn’t expect to be blown away by my choices. All I wanted was a nice, enjoyable dinner with a girlfriend, and that’s exactly what I got.

Sometimes it’s best to go to a restaurant and know beforehand what your expectations are. If you want great food, by all means, judge the place you eat at by the quality of the food, the presentation, the uniquness of the recipes used.

But if you’re going out to hang out with friends, or perhaps share a romantic meal with a loved one, curbing back your food expectations will actually increase your enjoyment of the evening.

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