Sunday 14 February 2016

How to be the Best Restaurant in America!

[Homeslice - best pizza in the world?]
Those of you that know me won't be surprised to hear I have a long list of fantasy road trips - and every now and then I'll see if they're still up to date, that nowhere has closed or gone down hill.

So I get to the Copper Top BBQ in Big Pine, a simple barbecue joint and possible lunch stop on US-395 (The 'Three Flags Highway') - and discover that not only is it still open, it's now the best place to eat in the whole of the USA.


Well, that's what readers of Yelp say - it tops their list of 100 best places to eat in the US. I already have a love/hate relationship with restaurant review sites and decided to investigate how this humble BBQ joint could become America's most well rated restaurant.

The journalists over at Slate have explained it best, and I fully recommend you go read their article after this, but here's my simplified take on it -

I'd written before that Americans love to give 5 star reviews and Slate say that over 40% of reviews on Yelp are 5 star. I've recently started using an app to rate beer and I've noted that my default review is always 4 stars.

Now, I'm a reserved Englishman, and that means I can't give anything a 5 star review (I'd reserve that kind of praise for the ambrosia of the gods, or the elixir of youth, should I find either). But I'm pretty free with my 4 stars. I like beer, and as long as the beer is okay, it gets 4 stars. Only if it disappoints me does it get less. And I'm rarely disappointed by beer.

[Really the best ribs in the USA?]
I think it's the same in the US - where their natural optimism and ebullience means that here, the 5 star review is the default. Hey, you're going out for a meal, the kids are with a babysitter, you're on holiday, you're on a date, you want this to be a good meal.

You want to give it 5 stars. And you will, unless something actually goes wrong.

So here's my four simple rules to having a well rated restaurant.

1. Make sure nothing does wrong. It's obvious, really, but - certainly in America - there's nothing like poor service to make you lose points.

Copper Top's owner gives away free food samples.

2. Don't be over ambitious. If your food truck serves hot dogs, and the hot dogs are tasty, you won't lose points. If I arrive at your food truck, and you confuse me with too many options, push me out of my comfort zone with venison sausages and sourdough rolls, and I don't like it, I'll dock you points.

Copper Top sell simple BBQ food on paper plates.

[Louie Muellers
is actually the best BBQ in the
entire world]
3. Don't be a local restaurant. I go to my local bistro once a month and always start with the risotto. I love their risotto. Last week the risotto was undercooked. I'm sad. There's a 3 star review coming now.

Instead, be a holiday restaurant. Ever noticed how fish and chips tastes better by the sea? You're relaxed, you want it to be good, and as long as it's not bad, it's best fish and chips ever.

It's possible that Homeslice in Austin doesn't make the best pizza in the world or that Riscky's in Fort Worth do the best ribs - but because I associate them with holidays, they'll always get 5 stars from me.

Copper Top is in the holiday resort of Big Pines.

4. Don't have your restaurant somewhere it rains. It's the holiday effect again. Rain makes us miserable. It's why there's fewer 5 star restaurants on the East Coast than the West. Chicago and New York both have world class restaurants, but the rain can wash away the occasional star, and that affects your averages. If you're thinking of opening a restaurant in Manchester, I simply say "don't".

Copper Top is, of course, in California.

So is all this advice true here in the UK? Well, here's the same top 100 list. (Relatively) warm and dry London dominates (just one restaurant in Manchester), as does simple comfort food. Number one is curry house Dishoom, and number two is a well regarded greasy spoon in Westminster. There's also pizza, two burger bars and a juice bar in the top 10 alone.

Need I say more?

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