Like most of us, my primary wish when going to restaurants is having a great experience. There are several variables determining that, not necessarily in order or with the same weight: quality of food, value for money, service, innovation vs tradition, consistency on how they present themselves and what you get, decoration, or dinner guests and other people around.
To begin with, I look at the time they have been in business and, if they are relatively new, what their previous credentials are, both inside and outside Spain. It begins with the careers of the chef and maître (if it is a renowned restaurant) and continues with waiters’ experience and training when doing their job (for any place).
In which area are they located? Prime vs non-prime, trendy vs non-trendy, touristic vs residential, business vs not-business… All this is related to the image they provide about themselves as well. Value for money and restaurants for locals tend to be in the latter category of the comparisons previously outlaid.
Table: this one I learnt it from my former Spanish flat mate in Ireland: if you are going to non-expensive / value for money restaurants (primarily applicable to daily menus), opt for those using a paper tablecloth. It is a sign that their primary focus is on food itself. Don’t expect a relaxing service though. Thanks for this teaching, Aaron!
Customers: are locals and residents their main ones? Which is the proportion of business people? If there are tourists, do they seem to know where they are or they just appear there as if they could be in the antipodes?
Type of food and region they represent: what is the menu like? Is there any consistency about the starters and mains they offer? Do they have seasonal food? Is the waiter making suggestions outside the menu? If so, why?
Also related to the menu and the way they advertise themselves in their doors, windows and portable panels outside the restaurant: is it entirely in Spanish or other regional languages from this country? If not, are those languages the priority? No disrespect to others, but if English is on ‘pole-position’ followed by other foreign ones, that might mean that the restaurant is more willing to attract tourists that are just going by and less likely to come back.
Google reviews and comments on guides and other sites (Repsol, TimeOut, TripAdvisor…): beyond their ratings, what are people saying about them? How many of them are locals or well established in the area? Any one particularly highlighting they go their often? If there is a negative comment, has the restaurant responded? If it is an old one, it is less likely that the owners or “encargados” (delegates) will comment anything on those review sites.
And finally, coming back to the ‘analogic’ world, the ‘word of mouth’. What are friends, family, colleagues and acquaintances saying? An example of the latter is a couple of good restaurants I got to know recently trough the recommendation of my Pilates instructor – she had small advertisements about them in her studio and that sparked the conversation around those and other venues between several of us waiting to get into the class. On top of that, the way I was treated when going to them was even better by saying I was referred to them by Luisa.
In other posts, I will share the names of some places I have enjoyed recentlty, both in Madrid and other locations around Spain, together with some observations about them.
What do you like the most about Spanish restaurants? Any food you particularly enjoy? What is the main aspect you pay attention to? Any other things worth mentioning?
Links of Interest
EnPlenitud, Cómo elegir un restaurante para una comida de negocios (how to choose a restuarant for a business meeting)
Ferroscafe, 10 consejos para elegir un buen restaurante (10 advices to choose a good restaurant)
Guía Repsol, Comer (food/lunch section)
Your Way in Spain, Gastronomy
Photos: Restaurants and terraces in Segovia. Restaurante El Brillante, Madrid.