I would like to take a moment to talk about something that is important to everyone and at the same time unique to every culture: value. What is considered to be a great value differs not only from culture to culture, but also from person to person. There is one specific aspect of value that I would like to talk about right now, and that relates to the expectation people have when they go into a restaurant and eat a dinner.

So, what do you use to weigh value when you go to a restaurant?

  • Price?
  • Presentation?
  • Quantity?
  • Quality?
  • Location?
  • Peers?

I personally believe that each of these plays a role when someone chooses a place to dine, and each person will place a higher value in one or another quality—the list above is in no particular order, not even my own. No one person’s perception of value is better than another’s, and it’s hard to compare them to one another. Nevertheless, restaurants try to cater to one or more of these perceptions in order to provide their customers with the best “value.”

Some restaurants, particularly nation-wide chains, bet that their customers will put quantity at the top of the value chain. I won’t name names, but you know the ones I mean; they give customers the now not-so-rare opportunity to queue up and walk down a line of near-endless lunch or dinner options ranging from salad, to creamed corn, to freshly cut meats. Buffet restaurants all claim to have the best bang for your buck, and compete with one another on aspects of quality.

Other restaurants offer customers bountiful amounts of seafood, frozen pre-packaged meats, and the ever-so-popular cheesy garlic bread. Value here seems to be based on quantity, price, and the perception of quality. It’s also familiar, which is a big draw for chain restaurants. When diners choose this location they know what to expect; there are no surprises. Entrees cooked from a bag and sauces poured out of a can mean that the taste is always the same.

Sometimes value is more subtle, as with “local” restaurants. By this I mean, a restaurant that is not only owned by someone in your city or town,, but that also supports local farms and purveyors, usually with a common goal in mind: to keep the local economy thriving. From my experience, people have a preconception that these “local” restaurants charge too much, or else they think they might not be getting their money’s worth. Expectations, both good and bad, can be held fairly high when diners eat at this kind of restaurant, whether it’s because the food is presented in a more decorative manner, or maybe the other diners somehow seem more sophisticated.

I believe people want to be (and should be) comfortable when they go out to eat, but sometimes they just need to forget about their usual definition of “value” in order to experience something new. The popularity of chain restaurants and fast food joints has really changed the definition of value in America, as well as the perception of exactly what is a good meal. I think that people sometimes forget or do not think about exactly what it is that they are paying for. I’ll go into that more when I write my next segment, which will be about quality.

Value all depends on the diner, but I hope that discussions just like this one, and the recent “localvore” trend for local food in local restaurants, will generate more thought on what people are eating and who they are supporting through their dining habits. As you can probably guess, at Söntés, we value local food and supporting our neighbors; we also believe that food should be as fun to view as it is to eat. In addition, we respect and appreciate our guests. So, tell us: what is it that you value in a restaurant?

-Chef Trevor