What Qualifies a Restaurant as “Best?”

On Tuesday, Bravo announced that Chef Gordon Ramsay would be bringing his UK hit “Ramsay’s Best Restaurant” to the U.S. and calling it “America’s Best Restaurant.” The show will travel across the country and pit 16 of America’s best restaurants against one another, in their own kitchens, to see who truly offers the best all-around, top-to-bottom experience. The winner will be crowned “America’s Best Restaurant.” So of course, everyone is wondering which 16 restaurants have been chosen, and of course, that’s being kept a secret.

What I think is more interesting is the idea of “best” restaurants and “best” pizzerias. It’s a question I get asked all of the time and one that’s difficult to answer. To tell you the truth, I usually don’t answer it. So many factors go into creating a memorable restaurant. It’s not solely the food, the atmosphere or the service individually. It’s the perfect combination of everything together–every time you visit. Let’s take a look at some of the details that make a good restaurant great.

The food is consistently well prepared. This first one should be obvious, but I can’t tell you how many restaurants I’ve been to where there are only a few items I’ll order again and again. At a truly great restaurant, you feel secure ordering anything, because you know it will be outstanding no matter when you order it or who happens to be in the kitchen that day.

There’s always service with a smile. Customer service starts at the front door, with a friendly greeting and an escort to the customer’s preferred table. Whether you run a sit-down restaurant or an order-over-the-phone pizzeria, customers should feel appreciated and happy with service, never angry or frustrated.

Every square inch of the facility is clean. Whether we’re talking about the windows in front, the bathrooms, the floors, tabletops, dishes, or the kitchen, every part of the restaurant should be clean. One of my pet peeves is ordering an expensive glass of wine and finding someone else’s lip prints staring back at me.

Customers are regularly surprised by extras. Some of my favorite restaurants are the ones where I’m surprised with a free teaser appetizer when I sit down, bread that’s warm from the oven when it arrives at the table, a manager/owner that comes around and asks how everything is going, and maybe even a tiny sweet at the end with my bill. These are all things that stay in a customer’s mind and will get shared with friends.

Owners/chefs aren’t afraid to think outside the box. At top restaurants you’ll often see a changing or seasonal menu, which allows the chef to experiment and customers to try new things each time they come in.

The restaurant pays attention to small details. Soft napkins, nice soap/tissue in the bathrooms, good butter/olive oil with bread, etc. Even the smallest details stand out and help to move your restaurant to the top of the list in a customer’s mind.

So how does your pizzeria fare when you go through this list? How do you make your customers feel special, and what makes your pizzeria the “best”?