Wednesday, May 15, 2013

High Dining Expectations

*And how our favorite restaurant consistently delivers...

Anyone who knows the Barefoot Hippies, knows we like Olive Garden. It is no exaggeration to estimate that we have eaten at OG over 100 times in the past 10 years. (and you wouldn't be remiss in suggesting that we eat out way.too.much) We are in there with friends, as a couple, or as a family on a very regular basis. We are not exactly on a first name basis with the staff, but they do recognize our family.

It's our hands down favorite restaurant-ever and always. Why?

For all of our many times we have eaten there, the number of bad experiences we have had can be counted on one hand. The exceptional service we have had at OG can be counted on all our combined hands and feet.

Olive Garden consistently provides good service, delicious food, and nice atmosphere, at reasonable prices. They are the epitome of what I want when I visit a restaurant, which is why we return over and over and over again.

Just what do I expect from a restaurant when I eat out?

Good service: This covers the range of everything from call ahead seating, to accurate wait times. From gracious hosts and wait staff, to prompt attention when seated. From knowledgable and interactive waiters to a good pace for bringing the food. OG has made themselves the barometer for a mid level restaurant experience.

But, not only is the service generally good, it is exceptional. Case in point...

We have gotten ourselves involved neck deep in ministry the entire 2 weeks surrounding Mere's birthday. I'm sure I will tell you more about it next month, but in a two week's period in June, we host a retreat which a cook for, I do a training session for a girl's discipleship program, and I run two vacation Bible schools.

Last year, I chose to wait to do Mere's 1st birthday party until after this circus was complete. But we still decided to do something fun on her birthday-go out for dinner. At OG. When they found out it was Mere's first birthday (siblings squealed), the manager brought her a cake with a candle. It was the nicest thing ever. I was feeling like a bad mom for not having cake on her first birthday, and they totally hit the ball out of the park. It may have made me cry.

pensive moment...why is this cake almost gone?
Delicious food: I love how OG has delicious food. And how they keep changing up there recipes. They keep the old standbys on the menu, but they try new things every month or two. It makes thing interesting. I think I have only had one dish at OG that I really didn't like.

Nice atmosphere: I don't like sport's bars-the loud music and general noise so loud that you can't hear yourself think. But, unless I am on a date with Mr. Hippie, I don't like for it to be so quiet everyone can hear you chewing. OG's peppy music at the right sound level and the ambience lighting does a lot to foster conversation without emphasizing every noise my kids make. This makes it very family friendly.

Reasonable Pricing: OG is on the expensive side, though its prices are comparable to other Italian chain restaurants. I'd assume the salad and breadsticks are figured by them into their entree costs, which is why you may get original sticker shock. But at a lot of restaurants, you have a lower entree price, but then you must pay for your salad. I'd say it generally evens out in the wash.

Attentive staff: I know I mentioned this in good service, but it stands to be mentioned again. Attentive staff is key to any restaurant experience. This doesn't mean they are hovering every moment, but it does mean they are able to gauge why you are there and serve you accordingly.

When I am out with the entire family my goal is in and out before anyone spontaneously combusts or eats too many crayons. Attentive staff promptly takes the orders, brings the bread or salad or chips quickly, and then brings the food asap. They keep an eye on the progress of the eating, and leaves the check in good time.
mother's day 2010
When I am out on a date, I don't want to be rushed or bugged. I don't need my food in a 15 minute window. I want things staggered and I want it to be a relaxing experience. That's why I'm there. I don't have to cook or clean up. I can enjoy my meal and conversation in peace. I don't care when the bill is brought, but I am paying to sit here, so I don't want rushed out either-especially if the restaurant isn't crazy busy.

A good waiter can gauge this also. And if there is any doubt in their mind, I have had them ask if we were trying to get to a movie or somewhere by a certain time. I have had waiters ask when I want my salad served or my coffee. I have no problem being asked. It puts expectations right out in the open, and satisfaction is more guaranteed.

Manager presence: Any restaurant I have visited that has a manager regularly intermingling with the patrons tends to have all these other factors in line. They have invested in training their staff, and their presence insures standards are upheld. When a manager stops by your table to ask how things are, it is the perfect opportunity to praise the food and staff or bring up concerns. A well run restaurant is a reflection of the manager. And they know it.

What are the factors that bring you back over and over again to a certain restaurant? What's your favorite restaurant? Why?

*Btw, this is a totally unsolicited review of OG. I was not compensated in any way.
*Btw #2, check back tomorrow for appropriate responses when restaurants don't deliver-service wise, not take out.=)