When It’s Hot: Restaurant Review Primer

by J. Michael Beza

Since the 2020 dining out odyssey has had more twists and turns than Shyamalan movie, I haven’t gotten around to trying many new restaurants. 2021, with any luck, will finally ease us back to normal, and be a safer time for eating out again. As such, it is my goal to finally start delivering some restaurant reviews on this blog!

This post will be a primer, explaining my rating system and metrics I will use to judge the places I visit. Full disclosure, the method I’m using reflects my values as a diner and might not be the one-size-fits-all barometer you’re used to using. However, trust me when I say that all my opinions will be mostly fair, sometimes well-thought out, and as objective as I can make them before my primitive subjective mind inevitably takes over. Even though I don’t always take myself seriously (as you can see), I do take food very seriously, and I earnestly enjoy the conversations that can come from differing opinions. So, without further ado, let’s start a fight!

My rankings will be based on four categories, each adding up to a maximum of 10 points, ideally ranging from hole-in-the-wall to Michelin star. I’ve designed the ratings to work across all classes of food, because they can be scaled up or down according to the restaurant. If you’re charging hundreds of dollars for your meal, you bet I’m going to judge it more rigorously than the local pho spot down the road. The following are the categories:

First Category – Taste (0-3 Points)

No matter what people say this is the most important thing a restaurant has to nail. I don’t care if the food looks like it was dreamed up in El Bullí’s test kitchen, if it tastes like a C+, it’s a failure. Give me something fantastic that’ll sizzle my taste buds into unrestrained ecstasy. Show me that you know what you’re doing, and most importantly that you’ve shown your cooks that you know what you’re doing. It’s very rare that the owners of an establishment stand behind their own stoves, so a lot rests on the shoulders of some guys and gals working their asses off for not enough pay. If you’ve proven to them that your vision is worth their effort, it’ll show up on the plate. That’s what I’m looking for.

Second Category – Service (0-3 Points)

I was never a stickler for service, until I went to live in Japan for a few years and learned what hospitality can really look like. Having had “omotenashi” soldered into my psyche, it’s safe to stay my standards have changed, and I judge establishments more closely on how their service is from top to bottom. Still, though, I’m very fair and sympathetic to those in the service industry, having worked several years in restaurants myself. You’ll never catch me having a “Karen moment,” even if the server dropped some sizzling hot fajitas on my crotch. Okay, maybe that would make me lose my cool a little, but you get my point. Don’t worry though, I know the importance of service, and how you most likely value it as well. I’ll always keep my eyes open and report my findings to you, because after all, we are paying customers.

Third Category – Cost Performance (0-3 Points)

Speaking of paying, this category is my homage to the Japanese version of Yelp called “tabelog” which uses the same category in its quantification system. I love the concept of cost performance because it gets to the heart of what so many diners want to know before spending their hard-earned paper: is it worth it? For this category, I’ll be looking for everything I believe makes something “worth” the final paycheck. I feel I can give a fair assessment on whether a restaurant is justifying what they are asking customers to pay, since I know about all the “X’s and O’s” of food pricing. The better I deem the value of the restaurant to be, the higher the final score in this category. It doesn’t matter if the bill is $30 or $300, value is relative, and I’ll do my best to deliver a fair and accurate rating.

Last Category – Bathroom/Overall Cleanliness (0-1 Point)

Cleanliness might be the most overlooked aspect of the dining out experience. To me, it not only overlaps completely with the service component of the business but deserves a place on any customer-driven restaurant scoring metric. Heck, just ask the health department why it’s important. And I know, not every place has a bathroom, but if there is, you best believe I’m going in there. This could make or break a perfect 10, and I don’t care that you’re scratching your head right now wondering why I care so much about the restroom. Call me old-fashioned, but if the business owners really care about the customer, they’ll give us a comfortable place to shit.

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