First impressions are notoriously critical, and that’s as true of restaurants as it is of people.  The details that strike you in the first few minutes can set your expectations in ways that will color the entire rest of your visit. Having the restaurant get these details right can make the difference between you feeling good about your experience and returning often, happily spreading the word about your new find, or leaving as an indifferent diner who may or may not return.

Most of the elements of success of a restaurant are simple: the exterior should be well-maintained and attractive, with adequate parking where that is an appropriate concern, and with modest but appealing signage. Entrance into the restaurant should be easy—including being easy for the handicapped—and if waiting times are at all likely, comfortable seating should be available. The scent of good food should meet you even before entering the restaurant and certainly should be noted afterward.  In the Victorian era there was a great effort made to conceal the scents of food and food preparation, with architects even going so far as to isolate the kitchen from the dining room and the front of the house specifically to ensure no food smells would disturb public spaces.  Now, though, those fine scents are considered advertising, and a vital part of the ambiance.

In a perfect world, all the details your first visit to a restaurant will come together in unified harmony. Clean, pleasing, well maintained buildings, appropriate design and décor, rich scents, attractive art, and capable and friendly staff will allow diners an instant experience of excitement and anticipation.  If these elements aren’t in place then no later efforts will make up for that first introduction. If customers enter already thinking an establishment is inferior, most may tend to continue thinking so, even as the kitchen proceeds to serve five-star cuisine.  A simple, pleasing element—something as simple as live-flowers on the hostess’ lectern—can serve to tell your customers that they’ve come someplace special.

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