After visiting dozens of restaurants this year as the publisher of a regional food and dining guide, I have learned that the restaurant dining experience is about much more than the food. It may also be a cautionary tale about restaurants losing control of their customer experience.
On Christmas Day 2023, my family and I were in Dallas following my son’s football camp which ended a few days earlier. While staying in an area hotel with few options available for a dinner service on Christmas, I opted for Morton’s Steakhouse nearby. I learned from that experience.
To give you an idea of what Morton’s Steakhouse is like, consider this description from their website; “Morton’s The Steakhouse is situated in the dynamic Uptown neighborhood and is near downtown Dallas and the vibrant Dallas Arts District. The restaurant is adjacent to fine hotel establishments like The Ritz-Carlton and The Rosewood Crescent Hotel and is located on the historic McKinney Avenue trolley line. The interior boasts modern and decadent dark wood, crisp linens, and a glass-encased, temperature-controlled wine room. A reputation for providing the highest quality steaks and seafood – coupled with unequaled service – makes Morton’s The Steakhouse Uptown a remarkable dining destination for tourists, business clientele, and the residents of Dallas. “
This is the kind of place you’d go for special occasions with people you care about to experience something special.
It was Christmas day, and the place was packed with guests waiting in line. I opted to wait at the bar, have a drink, and place my order to-go. I managed to strike up a conversation with a gentleman sitting at the bar which helped pass the time until my order was ready to go. I paid for my order and left to return to the comfort of our hotel room. What I discovered after getting back to the room and unpacking the meal was something that still sticks with me to this day.
As my wife and I sat in that room eating our fancy mac-n-cheese and steak, I felt cheated. Not because the food was bad or cold. It wasn’t. I felt cheated because although I had paid the same as the people sitting in the dining room of the restaurant, my ‘experience’ was sitting in a room eating on the side of the bed eating from a plastic container with plastic utensils. It was Morton’s food, but it was not a Morton’s Steakhouse experience.” I was left to wonder what I had actually paid for and if I’d not cheated myself in exchange for the convenience of avoiding the line.
This brings me to the point of being prompted to write a review of the restaurant shortly afterwards. I have had more than a million views of my comments, images, and reviews on Google, so I try to be very mindful of what I write. After all, I want to do my part to serve the greater good versus shining any negative light on a business.
The question is “What am I reviewing?” Is it just the food or is it the overall experience? Would my rating be different if I had eaten the same food a few feet from the kitchen while it was still hot and served in their formal dining room by servers?
Yes. I would have enjoyed the linen tablecloth, metal utensils, and ambiance of the space. The food would also have been fresh from the kitchen and plated on real plates instead of the plastic-ware it was packed in. The fact is, I had taken food that was designed to be enjoyed a few feet from the kitchen and tried to enjoy it in a hotel room served in plastic. It didn’t feel right.
As I visit and evaluate restaurants in our area north of Atlanta, Georgia, I find myself hesitating to leave reviews about restaurants when I get food to go. If there’s something I really enjoy about the food, I’ll certainly share that positive experience. Otherwise, I try to be very careful to segment different parts of the experience and only point out things that I feel are within the control of the restaurant.
I’ve also started having conversations with the restaurant owners I interact with to remind them of the trade-offs and risks they have when people do take-out. When that “take-out” involved food delivery services, this risk goes to another level.
In an age of take-out where it’s easy to order via an app and have meals delivered, let’s all do better with remembering that the restaurant likely designed that meal to be enjoyed a few feet from their kitchen minutes after coming out of the oven, not miles away packed in plastic thirty minutes later.
When given the chance, go in, have a seat, and enjoy the “Experience” of dining at a local restaurant. They’ve worked hard to create an environment where you feel welcomed as you enjoy a meal. When you write your review, you can know that you experience them in an environment they control.
We’re fortunate to have a wide variety of dining options in our area. They are diverse and unique in their own way and it’s my pleasure to visit with them and learn what drives them. I hope you’ve enjoyed this segment of “My Perspective” and I’d love to hear from you.
In the meantime, I’ll continue to encourage those looking for great dining experiences to start their search the Taste of 575 website where they can explore more than 100 casual and upscale dining locations in North Cobb and Cherokee County.
What has been your experience in doing take-out from restaurants? Do you find that the experience is the same? Is the value the same when you pay the same price, or higher, but aren’t sitting inside the restaurant to eat? When you write a review, do you take into account the fact that the food wasn’t really designed for being packed in plastic and transported elsewhere?
Be sure to note that I look at take-out (picking up one’s own food) and delivery-service (Grubhub, Ubereats) differently because they introduce a 3rd party into the process which I’ll write about in another post.
I’d love to hear from you, so feel free to comment below and share this post with others.