The Paradox of Popularity

I’m about to say something that may send shivers down the spines of restaurateurs everywhere – I don’t like eating in busy restaurants.

I know, I know, this goes against the entire concept of business. If a restaurant isn’t busy, it’s likely struggling. A restaurant, by design, desires to be busy.

But I cannot deny the way I feel. I don’t like the waiting for a table when I already have a reservation for a specified time. I despise waiting in line for anything. I’m annoyed when the din of surrounding tables drowns out the conversation with the people I’m breaking bread with. I can’t stand when I am pressured, either overtly or through passive-aggressive behavior, to leave so that the next customer can fill my spot.

There’s an old maxim out there that goes something like this – whenever someone asks you for your favorite places to eat, you never state your absolute favorite. The idea here is that you don’t want the place to lose whatever nuances it may have due to increased popularity.

I’m of the belief that there is a line that a restaurant crosses when it gets too popular, that changes it’s quality. Let’s call this the “Indie Rock” effect, which is the idea that once a indie rock band goes mainstream, it either loses some aspect, or some aspect changes in such a way that makes it a different experience than what it was before it made it big. Restaurants almost have to go through the same experience. Making dinners for one thousand people a night requires different processes than making dinner for one hundred. That difference, regardless of how slight it may be, is almost always noticeable.

This is one area in which a good, high end restaurant will reign supreme over the regularly frequented corner place. It is my belief that, say, a Michelin rated restaurant can afford to either take less customers or hire well trained staff that makes the diner feel as if they were not rushed at all. That staff can be anyone from the interior designer who pays attention to such things as table placement and the proximity to other customers, to highly experienced cooks and chefs who know how to change their production techniques without changing dining experience. The cost for such skill is applied to the price of the dinner, and is why the check ended up being $300 for two people, instead of the $70 meal one would pay at the local place.

The above is mostly my guess, but it seems logical to me. Unfortunately, I cannot afford these places as often as I wish, so I have to determine another course of action when it comes to finding a place to eat. This is where the above picture comes into play. It is a plate of Pollo Negro Mole that I had at a local restaurant, consumed on a night when the restaurant was half full.

Alas, the owners probably thought that their restaurant was half empty, and therein lies the problem.