Hi my name is Ashley and I’m a restaurant junkie. I love everything about trying out a new restaurant, experiencing food from different cultures and dining with friends. Last week I headed to a new Colombian restaurant with a few pals, otherwise known as Arepas Deliciosas.
I really do believe that food is an experience. It’s something that crosses cultural borders between individuals and it can not only serve as a topic of conversation, but a method for bringing people together.
I’d love to share some tips on things to consider when trying a food joint if you’d like to see.
If you’re already a restaurant junkie and this post doesn’t apply to you, stay tuned for a few new posts coming later in the week. BUT, if you’re like my husband and I were before we moved to Miami, picky, and regular restaurant chain goers (Chili’s and Olive Garden), read on!
Read the Reviews
Really, this isn’t rocket science, but Yelp is your friend. Read reviews, but not too closely. For example, I don’t pay too much attention to the star rating for 3 stars and above. I usually click around the reviews and read the comments. Is the place expensive, what do the pictures look like, and do people mention that they plan to come back? Is it a chain or is it a small business? That’s my criteria for choosing a place. I look for 3, 4, and 5 star ⭐️ restaurants. Our Colombian place has 4 1/2 stars and it’s locally owned.
If you’re visiting with a group I highly recommend calling ahead. I ask questions about seating, do they have enough space for my group (some places have very limited seating). I ask if they serve alcohol, and if they don’t I ask whether they have a corkage fee or allow people to bring their own wine. I also inquire about reservations, parking, and when they’re busy along with any specials they may be having. Finally, don’t forget to ask if they split the check and if there’s an enforced gratuity. You can really learn more about a place by having a quick phone call with someone who works there. Count on gaining additional information you may not have thought to inquire about.
For example, when I called the Colombian place they mentioned that they closed at 8 pm, which was important because we planned to arrive at 6:30 pm, which didn’t leave us much time. I was able to plan ahead and arrive a little early and order a few appetizers to get us started.
Your Waiter Usually Knows Best
When I arrive in the restaurant and the waiter comes by the table I almost always ask these two questions:
- What are the most popular items
- What do they recommend; what’s the server’s favorite item?
These two things can vary so I recommend asking both questions. I usually also do research and scan through Yelp reviews for images of the food just in case the server responds to my question with “everything is good!” which is never helpful!
Try New Things
I cannot stress this enough! Be sure to order something off the menu that you wouldn’t normally go for. And when you split food with friends, grab an appetizer size plate and dig into an assortment and start trying them! You’ll be amazed at how many things may become new favorites.
Split Food with Friends
Splitting food allows you to try a good depth of the menu; if you decide to come back you’ll have a lots of options to choose from. Friends also tend to help encourage other friends to try new things, since most everyone’s palate is different. Hearing other orders can also persuade you to be more daring. At our Colombian restaurant we ordered lots of appetizers for sharing and trying and then we also each ordered a variety of entrees which gave us a wide perspective of almost the entire menu.
Talk to People
Talk to people at the bar, your waiter, people at the restaurant. If you’re on a wait, talk to the people waiting. It’s a great way to hear from people who may have visited the restaurant before and I’ve never met a person who hates sharing their favorite foods. Talking to people also enhances your overall restaurant experience- go ahead, be social in the community!
Investigate the Staff and Facilities
I love a good bathroom. I pay attention to whether the facilities have a diaper changing station and high chairs in case I plan to come back with my family. Is the bathroom clean, is the staff attentive, is the seating comfortable, and does the staff accommodate special requests? Who is dining there, do they look like they’re local or tourists? Can they accommodate larger groups in case I like it enough to plan a special event in their space (birthday party, special dinner, anniversiary). Finally, décor can be a big draw and I always pay special attention to the little details.
One last tip: Open table allows you to make a reservation (which I highly recommend), but they also sometimes have reservation slots that the restaurant gives up. If you call the restaurant and they don’t have any reservations available, check Open Table, you might find a slot there. I also make notes in the Open Table reservation specifying if I’m celebrating a special occasion, if I’d like a booth vs. a table, and if I’d prefer a window or to be by the kitchen (if it’s an open-viewing kitchen). Most restaurants try to accommodate these requests and specifying can definitely enhance your overall dining experience.
Those are my go-to tips for trying new places. Be open, seek adventure, and remember, it’s an experience. It’s like a first date, you’re interviewing a first-time restaurant to see if it’s a place you’d enjoy going back to, find new foods, and ultimately widen your palate. If you want to read more about how food serves as an agent for connecting people you can start with this book, it’s an excellent depiction of how food can connect people. Also, don’t forget to be a Yelp contributor and give back to the community- leave a short review or pictures for all the new places you get out to try!
What tips do you have for trying new restaurants? I’d love to know.