So, how do you go about choosing a restaurant without reading reviews? My general set of guidelines to decide whether or not to eat at a place are based on several ideas.
To me, Exploration is still one of the greatest and most fun ways to find perfect dining. I assess to determine whether the restaurant is the perfect dining experience for me, in that moment. Of course safety and hygiene always play a role, but aside from these obvious factors, I personally am looking for an experience.
Imagine that you are standing in front of a dining establishment, yet know nothing about it. Choosing a restaurant without reading reviews is so much fun!
Practical Considerations of Choosing a Restaurant Without Reading Reviews
How Crowded Is It?
- Is there a good crowd? If a restaurant is totally empty, but all establishments nearby are too, this may mean nothing. If all places around are packed, and one establishment is empty, that could indicate an issue.
- Who is dining there? If there are a ton of locals dining, I’d venture to guess it is either great food, and/or great value. When a restaurant has a crowd of tourists, it may or may not be well priced and/or of traditional expectations.
- BUT the amount of people dining in a particular restaurant, could mean something, or nothing at all…
- Are you there at an off hour? This could explain a lack of people. Also, if it is a holiday or if there is a special event, drawing people elsewhere.
I like to take a more global approach to choosing a restaurant. The quantity of people dining is just one of many factors to ponder.
My Trastevere Example
The first time we tried our favorite restaurant in Trastevere, it was totally empty. We were not even sure that they were serving, or open for that matter. We shyly wondered in, and waited hesitatingly by the door for someone to appear. But sure enough, once a family member noticed us, they sprang into action.
We had service like they had been waiting for us forever. The food was delicious and I swear I may have tried one of everything. They practically had to roll me out, but not before paying the incredibly small amount scrolled on the check, (that I thought I was misreading). Needless to say, we have returned several times, as well as sent friends who asked for recommendations.
The long winded point here is that if we had solely relied on the amount of people dining, we would have missed out on one of my favorite goto restaurants in Rome. Three in the afternoon is not a common lunch time in Italy. Therefore, the lack of people was due to our time of arrival.
So, why did I try it? All of the area restaurants were empty so this was not a good way to gauge. I used other practical and instinctual elements to assess. My considerations do not necessarily mean that ultimately a restaurant will actually be fabulous, however following these guidelines may help to ensure that you find dining that is perfect in that moment.
What is the Vibe?
- What are your first glance profiles of the other diners? Many locals dining often implies quality.
- What are the diners wearing? Are people casual or formal? Are you dressed in attire appropriate for the restaurant?
- Do the customers have a certain vibe? (ie. hippies, backpackers, families, fashionistas)? This may help you to decide if it is the ambiance you are hoping to experience.
While you can’t judge a book by its cover, sometimes you can figure out the atmosphere, general price range, and type of food just by being present to your surroundings.
Is It Hygienic?
Use sensory details to assess if a restaurant will be acceptable to your standards.
- Is there a placard? Some countries require that a letter be posted in the window, denoting their sanitary compliance. Sometimes you can find a certificate of excellence or award from Trip Advisor or a local source. Some restaurants may be Michelin rated.
- Does the restaurant appear clean? Is there garbage on the floor? Are the tables dirty? Are they being regularly bussed?
- Is the bathroom clean and in usable condition?
- How does the restaurant smell? The smell of sewage or mold may be an indication of non-potable water. On the other hand, you may be drawn in by the aroma of savory food.
- Does the food being served look appetizing and fresh? Do the vegetables look canned? Possibly nothing is wrong with processed vegetables, but it might indicate the level of food being offered.
Is It Convenient?
How many of you have passed on one place, in order to find something more preferable, only to find everything else was closed? I know I’ve been guilty of that! Sometimes you just have to take a chance, or even take what you can get!
- Is the restaurant very close to, or inside of, a major tourist attraction? This can be convenient. Food could go either way; really good or catering to tourists & don’t care. But hungry is hungry.
- Are you hungry at an off-time when selections are limited? If so, you may need to settle, even if it does not meet all of your desires. The worse outcome is to get stuck hungry when everything is closed.
- Is the restaurant part of a hotel? This could be a plus because they are used to dealing with tourists. Many hotels serve meals at non-traditional hours, understanding jet lag. Added plusses are better possibility of filtered water and speaking multi-languages.
Instinctual Factors of Choosing a Restaurant Without Reading Reviews
Sometimes you just know something works or does not work for you. It is that instinctual feeling you get when you feel compelled to give something a second glance, or run far away. Okay, that may be a bit dramatic, but I do believe that being present and listening to your instincts can help you choose a dining experience that will be rewarding.
Perhaps there is live music drifting out the open window, that catches your ear. Maybe the romantic candlelight glowing on the rustic historic walls looks intriguing. The host’s greeting could feel welcoming and genuine. Possibly the complex or familiar aromas fill your nose with longing.
On the flip side, the hostess can appear too desperate, almost begging you to enter. Perhaps the few diners look somber as they pick at their entrees. Maybe you just do not take a second look and pass on by without thinking twice. Whatever the case, following your instincts is generally a safe bet.
- Is there a menu posted and does it look appetizing?
- What do the portions look like?
- Is communication an issue? This is almost always manageable, but is especially important if you have allergies or dietary restrictions.
- Are there special dietary items indicated on the menu? There is sometimes a symbol or a separate section.
- Is the ambiance pleasing?
- Do you feel welcome?
- Does the menu have photos? This may indicate a tourist menu, but is sometimes a cultural practice. It also may be a positive, if you are having communication issues.
- Is your dress appropriate?
- Is there a tourist special on the menu? This is not necessarily bad. Just notice. This may be a great value if you are hungry and low on cash. Sometimes it is not to local standard as the establishment may view you as a one and done sale, but it may be just fine.
- What is the price range? Is this restaurant affordable for you?
- Is there available seating? Are you willing to wait? In some countries, meals can be very long, and so can the wait.
- What area is the restaurant in? Do you feel safe if it gets late? Is the restaurant near a major tourist attraction, making it a primarily tourist destination? This may make food more costly.
- Does the establishment have a special view or experience? Regardless of cost, or even quality, sometimes I choose a table solely for the privilege of the experience it offers. It may be in a historic building, or on a beach. Sometimes that makes it memorable.
- Does the restaurant filter their water and ice? If not, are they washing produce in, and cooking with potable water? Select menu items that are well cooked, boiled, or fried, if potable water is a concern.
Tip 1: During the frying process, most bacteria is cooked out. Therefore, fried food could be a great option if you are having doubts about the hygiene or water safety in your location. Use caution when consuming raw, undercooked, or mishandled food. It can be hazardous.
TIP 2: Use applications such as Google translate to figure out what unknown items on the menu are.
See More Travel Tips in Jenny In Wanderland Article, How To Choose the Best Accommodation