Thursday, 15 November 2012

How to Recommend a Restaurant

Recently, a friend asked me to recommend a restaurant for her birthday in London. My heart sank. I HATE recommending restaurants to people. But I have to, because she's my friend, she invited me and because she thinks I'm the restaurant equivalent of Mary Portas. I don't like to correct her.

People may think that London foodies, upon being asked to recommend a restaurant, are smug creatures, reaching into their back pockets for the 'perfect little place' for every occasion. The truth is, it creates a massive amount of pressure on you, the recommender. What if you've been there a million times and they have an off-day? What will your friend think of you? Will you be off the Christmas list or will your friendship be good as over?

The problem is that there's always a lot of back-and-forthing. You may think you've recommended the perfect place, but the inevitable replies will come back: 'I was hoping for something a little more... authentic.' (You want more authentic? Go to bloody Tuscany then), or 'It's a bit out of my price range.' (Suggest that they go to McDonald's for a happy meal. Is that within their price range?) Or my favourite: 'I was hoping somewhere a bit cooler.' Sorry love, if you don't want to pay eight quid for a cocktail,  your 'cool' options are vastly depleted.

I put together a step-by-step guide to choosing 'the perfect little place'. It may not be altogether helpful, but it will give you an idea of how much of a nightmare it is.

1. The initial contact
"You know London restaurants, don't you? Can you recommend a really great one to me?" (It's funny how people always ask you to recommend a good one. It's like they think if they don't specify a good one, you'll tell them to go to a really shit one. Mention this in the style of an observational comedian, like it's only just occurred to you.

2. One size does not fit all
They won't give you any specifications because they will assume that if it's good, it's suitable for all occasions. This is wrong except in very rare instances. Restaurants are not like those 'magic' gloves from Primark. One size does not fit all.

3. Where?
You'll need to ask questions like 'where?' Out-of-towners occasionally don't realise just how big London is. To get to one side of London from the other when four different lines are 'down for maintenance' could potentially be the equivalent of their journey from Coventry. Give them a quick test on the tube map, to ascertain how much they know.

4. How many?
'How many people will there be?' Your answer's probably going to be different if there are two people to if there are twenty. You might have to go into private dining territory (if you book a PD room, make sure there is music. I recently had a semi-awkward dinner in which whenever there was a silence, it was really doubly awkward). Make wild claims about cancellation fees, to get a real number.

5. Style?
'What kind of food?' (you could spend some time compiling a varied list of restaurants when it turns out that they only wanted sushi restaurants. They expected you to know that, kay?). If they say 'I don't know', you may have to subtly interrogate them. If you have an area and a food style, it majorly decreases brain-wracking time (reel off several unlikely choices facetiously, just to annoy them).

6. Occasion?
'What's the occasion?' If they want more romantic first date than kid's 9th birthday party, it's going to change. Obviously. Make a short Powerpoint presentation of opposing places, with titles such as 'Nobu or Nando's?' (A thing to remember about birthdays is that the birthday boy or girl will hate you forever more if you ruin their birthday).

7. When?
'When are you looking to go?' 'Tomorrow.' If today is Friday and tomorrow is Saturday, laugh, long and loud. Bonus points if it's in December.

8. Budget?
 'How much are you looking to pay?' Your definitions of 'good value', 'cheap' and 'within reason' may vary wildly from others'. Grill them extensively for figures.

9. What's the damage?
A thing that it's important to anticipate is the paying of the bill. Does the restaurant charge automatic gratuity? Will your (large) party refuse to pay any? Will the party insist on painstakingly dividing up the bill? If the answer to any of these questions is yes, I suggest going to somewhere you can pre-pay at the bar.

10. Never go there.
Finally, are you going? If you are, anything that goes wrong in your normally favourite place will be YOUR FAULT. By all accounts, decline. Or make up a crap excuse at the last minute.


  1. 11. Who is asking? I have some people that I will not recommend my favourite places to because I don't trust them to behave appropriately.

  2. This happens to me quite a bit:

    "We need something central-ish, though maybe not, for 5-20 people that you can reserve, that's dead cheap and does the best food in London."

    *racks brains* *Sends over painfully researched list*

    "We went to Pizza Express in the end."

    *Kills self*

    1. That list should probably just be one item:

      1. DON'T DO IT!

  3. Excellent piece on a tangible and painful process.

  4. Ha! I so agree with this...hate recommending, especially to close friends who seem to have an unreasonable faith in your food oracle skills. Although I am guilty of asking for recommendations quite often. but it's on twitter so no friendships to be spoilt there ;)

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