HUCK'S RANT: Same universe, alternate reality

Perception is king when it comes to restaurants. Not just those of each guest, but those of operators too.

One of the glaring differences between operators that have successful restaurants and those left floundering is a misguided perception of what they are offering.

In the space of a week I dined at two new restaurants with almost identical mission statements, but the delivery of their promise were poles apart.

Now, there’s a fair argument to say that a restaurant reviewer’s experience is not that of the hoi polloi. But pleasingly in both instances both venues were none the wiser that I was in fact there to review.

And just an FYI to all operators, just treat the critics like every other guest. No special treatment. Actually, give every guest special treatment.

So two restaurants, both vying for hub of the community.

Restaurant A started by seating us immediately, giving us menus, asked if we’d like still or sparkling, and perhaps a more substantial drink to start – a refreshing cocktail perhaps.

The manager at Restaurant B contemplated where to put us, offered us an average table inside or an equally average one outside, which we took. He gave us menus and walked off.

Water arrived at A. We ordered those cocktails and our waiter explained two specials to consider.

Meanwhile at B we waited. The manager came back to tell my dining partner there was not enough prosecco for the glass she ordered. Only we’d not ordered anything, at all. When we advised him of the fact he replied, “Are you sure?”

“Yes, can we please get some water?” I asked.

He said yes and rushed to solve the prosecco problem, forgetting about the water.

At A, our cocktails landed, we ordered food, the owner/sommelier arrived promptly and we discussed the dishes, agreed on a wine and she put it on the side until we finished our drinks.

Back at B, we tried to flag down a staff member, until finally one arrived and asked, "Can I help?"

“Can we get some water please? And order too.”

She seemed sweet and took down our wine and food order.

Back at A, glasses landed just as our first course left the pass and wine was poured.

At B we finally received water, the dishes arrived in good time but they forgot about our wine – which we asked for again and received towards the end of our entrees.

Now, space prohibits further explanation of the mass of mess-ups at B – most irritably the owner beating his chest and hosting friends to dinner at his new restaurant and wasting waiters time.

I’d order every dish again at A. I couldn’t say that of any at B – including one that was in fact inedible and at odds with the song and dance about championing produce.

A was full, B barely a quarter.

And yet, the final bills were almost identical.

I know where I’d spend my money again.

Anthony Huckstep is the national restaurant critic for delicious. and a food writer for The Australian, GQ Australia and QANTAS.