How to tell a quality restaurant from a cheap one

Don’t get me wrong. I sometimes enjoy fast food, or good food served quickly, or your basic hoagie/sub/grinder/ po boy. And I don’t always have the time or money to get every meal I eat served with a finger bowl and hot towel. But then again, sometimes I do. Sometimes I’m in the mood for just such posh treatment.

But sometimes it’s difficult to tell which category a restaurant falls into. When you walk into an establishment, you are suddenly committed to dining there. And then the establishment’s foods are force-fed down your throat and you are full, without so much of a chance as requesting the wine list nor the toy of the week. It’s a tough call, boys and girls, and you must often rely on naught but your wile and intuition to guess what type of place you’ve walked into.

However, here is your handy-dandy guide to solve such a dilemma. Print it out and use it. You can thank me later.

For purposes of convenience, we’ll call fine-dining establishments Type I. Fast food is Type II.

-A type I restaurant serves it’s meals on dinnerware made of some type of ceramic. A type II uses some derivative of paper, plastic, or styrofoam.

-A type I restaurant has as its logo a stylized fork, or plate, or other abstract art. A type II has a clown, a bell, one of the Mario Brothers, or a smiling rat.

-Ball pits: Type II.

-Being greeted with “How many in your party?”: Type I. Being greeted with “NEXT!”: Type II.

-Cloth napkins: Type I. Paper napkins: Type II.

-A printed menu that lists “Shrimp Cocktail ~ 18” is a type I. A board with movable type above the cash register that says “P0PCO N SR1WP 3.9S” is a type II.

-Any restaurant that shows pictures of the food, either above the counter or in the menu is type II.

-If a clean-cut man in a tuxedo serves your food, type I. If a mature lady wearing a pink or powder blue apron-dress, glasses with a chain, and a name-tag that says “Madge” serves your food (and calls you “hon”), type II. Double if she’s smoking while she serves you.

-If the ketchup comes in a little glass bowl with a tiny spoon, type I. Ketchup in a little foil packet signifies a type II. If the ketchup comes in a red squeeze bottle, or can be squirted into a little paper cup, type II. If it’s in a bottle, could go either way.

-Type I restaurants generally don’t require you to speak into a plastic clown, and don’t answer back “Dvvvv yvvvv vvvvvnt fvvvvz vvvvv zvvv?”

-In a type II restaurant the sous chef is also likely to take your order, run the cash register, and sweep the floor. Sometimes all at once. Said person is also 14% likely to have an algebra test the next day.

-If you want plain club soda in a type I, you have to ask for it. If you want plain club soda in a type II, use the Dr. Pepper spout.

-And finally: Round trays carried by waitstaff: Type I. Rectangular trays carried by you: Type II.

Glad I could be of help.

Quality and cheap are not incompatible.

In Spain quite a few restaurants, specially those that double as bars, have:

  • pictures of most dishes (specially those with names a foreigner won’t have learned in Spanish class)
  • a menu
  • metal silverware
  • ceramic dishes
  • cloth tablecloths
  • waiters that ask “how many?” and “would you like window, terrace or inside?”
  • and who blink several times if you ask for ketchup
  • and may need an ambulance if you use the ketchup (which may come in a plastic bottle or in individual baggies) on anything but your fries
    and enough food to actually feel like you’ve eaten, with prices low enough to do so again within the year.

Those restaurants are sort of a midpoint between the fast food joints and those other restaurants where you get barely enough food to feel like you ate, definitely not enough to determine how did it taste, in a plate big enough for a whole T-bone, at prices that make your wallet try to leave the premises on its own before being gutted.

Know what would be a fun place to eat? A place that has a wine and a toy list. Kinda like an adult Chuck E. Cheese. The toys could be like, Food Network Action Figures or something like that. A different one each week and a list of prior figures that one could order for perhaps a slightly higher fee.

Who wouldn’t want to order a bottle of cabernet sauvignon and a Rachel Ray or Alton Brown action figure? It’d make bazillions!

Can I have a life-size anatomically correct Alton Brown action figure? Please?

Is the Rachel Ray action figure anatomically correct, or is she comic-bookly inhanced? Either one would be fine, but I still need to know for, uh, other reasons.

Don’t forget the adult-sized adventure tubes and skee-ball!

Nava, that certainly sounds like fine-dining, at least somewhat. FD does not necessarily have to mean expensive. I’ve been to plenty of quality restaurants with entrees under $10.

Then again, I consider a place like Applebee’s to be type II, or very close to it, even though it meets most of the criteria for type I. It does have pictures in the menu, to show you what you wish you could get there.

But I suppose we have to add some criteria to further cement Applebee’s into type II territory:

-The food sucks ass, and it is oversalted to a fault.

-You need a shower to wash the grease out of your hair, and that’s simply because you walked within 50 feet of the place.

-Neon signs.

-A national chain with a jingle.

-“Have your child’s birthday party here!”

WhyKid as a little tyke would differentiate thusly:

“Mommy, are we going to a pay-before-you-eat or a pay-after-you-eat?”


Anatomically incorrect, and you can’t buy one. You can rent one for $40/day.

An adult ball pit. Hmm. The mind boggles. How about a giant beer mug/swimming pool?

WhyKid sure knows how to nail a definition :slight_smile:

Good criteria!

Type I: The cloth napkin is folded on the plate. The metal fork and spoon are beside the plate. Type IIa: The paper napkin is in a table dispenser. The metal fork and spoon have dried egg on them. Type IIb: The paper napkin is folded and in a clear plastic envelope. There is a plastic spork in there as well.

Menu containing no English whatsoever (in English-speaking country): Type I Laminated menu: Type II
Chair free to move to diner’s desired position relative to table: Type I.
Chair bolted to floor, or an integral part of a picnic-style chair/table combo: Type II.
Dish descriptions containing the words “goujons”, “coulis” or “celeriac”: Type I
Dish descriptions containing the words “nuggets”, “mayo” or “pickle”: Type II
Bill presented at the end of a meal, folded into a leather wallet, with wafer-thin mints on the side: Type I
Receipt presented after paying and before receiving food, with grease and/or ketchup stains on the front: Type II

If I may add a few of my own:

  • If your meal is deliberately arranged to be esthetically pleasing to the senses: Type I. If your meal appears to have been dispensed from an overhead drop chute: Type II.

  • Extra sauce delivered in small glass bowls: Type I. Extra sauce delivered in hermetically sealed plastic Hellmans containers: Type II.

  • Gravy with visible bits of beef and/or peppercorns: Type I. Gravy with visible bits of undissolved powder: Type II.

  • A plaque mounted somewhere prominent declaring the establishment’s awards of excellence: Type I. A plaque mounted somewhere prominent declaring the establishment’s awards for lowest average time between customers served: Type II.

Good one. The type two receipt often has a number on it which will be called when your food is ready. See rectangular tray comment in the OP.

You can also tell by the way tips are requested. I’ll leave it as an exercise for the reader as to which is which:

a) Printed in the menu is the phrase “18% gratuity added for parties of six or more.”

b) A jar on the counter reads, in magic marker, “Tips for tuition.”

The way the daily specials are presented is also an indicator.

Type I: Written in chalk on a blackboard.

Type II: Written in magic marker on a cardboard pizza round.

I knew dopers wouldn’t let my dream die! I’m puttin’ the two of you on the design team. :smiley:

What’s the deal with expensive restaurants serving tiny portions on ENORMOUS plates? I was in one such establishment-i had a 4-5 oz. steak which was served on a plate at lease 16’ in diameter? I just don’t get it-the table was overwhelmed with plates. I’m of the opinion that restaurants should serve smaller portions-by why the humongous plates?

Aesthetics. It’s pretty, I guess. Nouvelle Cuisine was something like a cornish game hen leg with four peas and a baby carrot along with a quarter ounce of some type of frou-frou sauce. And it would cost you $59.00.

Another sign of a type II restaurant: They advertise that they have “Kountry Kitchen Kookin.’” They may not be burning a cross on the lawn, but it’s a good bet that the vegetable of the day comes from a can and the mashed potatoes come from a box.

Also beware of any place where roosters are stencilled onto the walls.

Menu is Xeroxed: Type II

Anything other than framed artwork (eg: old tools, milk cans, etc) is on the walls, Type II. Anywhere that has framed artwork whose frames are visibly screwed to the wall: Type II

Anyplace where the Sysco delivery comes in the front door: Type II

Menu is hand-painted slate: Type I.

I’ve been to a few type I’s with crazy crap on the walls. A seafood restaurant with old oars, nets, chippy tools, and the occasional rowboat can be quite good. Try the sniff test. If the place smells like a McDonald’s from 50 feet away, seek alternate nutrients.

How you hang your coat is an interesting test. If you can’t hang it at all, it could be either type. If you can bring it to a coat room, it’s definitely a type I. If there is a free-standing wooden coat rack near the door, type I. If there are hooks on a wall, it’s a type II most likely. If each booth has a tall pole with hooks, it’s decidedly type II.

A restaurant with a communications system rivalling that of a KISS concert – and/or who will give you a vibrator in exchange for your name – is pretty much a type I, but is likely to be very disappointing. “Most popular fried mozzeralla sticks in town” might be their motto.