Samui Wining & Dining
It’s All in The Mind

Defining the ‘best’ restaurant isn’t solely about enjoying the food, as Noori India General Manager, Dee Dee, explains.

p18Why do people dine out? It’s a question my old friend Dee Dee, General Manager of Noori India restaurant in Chaweng, and I pondered over some tandoori chicken. And why choose a specific restaurant over another? That latter question is more relevant on Samui as most visitors don’t have cooking facilities in their accommodation. But the first question is intrinsically linked to it.

In general terms, the reasons why you choose to dine out and where you go are myriad. It can be for a special occasion, like birthdays and anniversaries, or to celebrate a success. And we tend to look past our usual haunts for those. Often, a restaurant will have a good reputation for the quality of the food and you may well have read positive reviews about them in newspapers, magazines and on-line. And we also tend to listen closely to family and friends who’ll know the type of places we enjoy.

Of course, much is dependant on what we’re in the mood to eat and we can be influenced by advertisements. Often’s the time when I’ve seen a picture of a pizza and immediately started thinking about it to the point of distraction. And even walking past a restaurant that has wafting aromas of food can trigger happy memories that make us want to stop and check out the menu. Sometimes it’s just by chance that you come across somewhere. When I was sitting with Dee Dee it started to rain heavily and a couple who were passing took shelter in the restaurant and within a few minutes had decided to stop and eat. Partly it was because they didn’t want to go back out in the rain but they also liked what they saw on the tables around them and perhaps, most importantly, they were impressed that Dee Dee had invited them to sit down and given them some water but didn’t try to press the menu onto them. He was happy to let them make up their own minds.

And the ambience of a restaurant is critical, too. Even if the food is fantastic and the restaurant close by, if the service is poor, the tables too close together and the atmosphere depressing then it’s not very inviting. Most people will have somewhere they frequent more often than anywhere else. All the basic boxes will be ticked like the food, service, price and location. But after a few visits it’s likely that the owner or manager and the staff will know you by name and we do like to be recognised. There’s a feeling of belonging about that and a conscious thought that if they know you, then they’ll ensure that everything is perfect.

It’s something that Dee Dee is certainly aware of. “Of course I hope guests enjoy their meal so much so that they’ll want to return but I also like to get to know people. Visitors come from all over the world and dozens of nationalities seek out good Indian restaurants. When we chat it’s not just about food and where they’re from, you can quickly get on to a whole range of topics that I find hugely stimulating and very enjoyable.” And that usually leaves a lasting impression on guests.

Dee Dee and I agreed that our choice of restaurant can also depend on who we’re with. Families need somewhere that offers children a reasonable choice. If you’re on a date you’ll head for, say, a romantic beachside location and not a fast-food joint (if you want a second date that is!). A group together may forgo the location and even top-class food if they can get a large table, make some noise and enjoy live entertainment. And if you’re a married man, then clearly you go wherever your wife tells you – welcome to my world. Some people are even influenced by a restaurant’s environmental or ethical policies. And others by the latest food fad, celebrity hang-out or the perceived message they want to give by dining at a particular place.

There is, however, a number of trends that appear every year that give an indication of what both consumers and restaurateurs are thinking. And, in 2010, it’s clear that price sensitivity is on the menu. The economy and an uncertain job market have people concerned and not only is value-for-money essential, but the reassurance of a familiar place is comforting. Restaurants that are ahead of the curve will provide a psychological storm cellar that gives value, provides excellent authentic food and offers the guest friendship and economic survival assurance.

Look for restaurants that put focus on the left side of the menu. That’s where the emotional resonance is. And you’ll see more creative snack items like tapas. On Samui Mercure Buri Resort in Maenam has an exciting and popular tapas menu. This isn’t just a small-plates phenomenon because it isn’t about the size, it’s about sharing. And that responds to consumers needs for comfort, safety and intimacy.

There’s also a trend towards ‘up-scaling the downscale’. That’s what’s behind the explosion of gourmet hamburgers smothered in manchego cheese and Iberian ham and artisan hotdogs with goat’s cheese and guacamole. Consumers are trading down in order to trade-up. And the smart thinking restaurateurs are giving much more consideration to kids. There’re healthier options, more ‘adult’ items, kids-eat-free promotions and even cooking classes for kids. Karma Samui resort, between Chaweng and Choeng Mon has a Friday ‘Kids Club’ that provides entertainment for them and allows the parents a bit of a breather into the bargain. And Six Senses Hideaway, up on the north-eastern corner of Samui, has a massive breakfast selection including a pancake and waffle station just for kids where they can make their own (supervised by a chef) and play around with food whilst their parents get some time to enjoy their own breakfast. And that’s very clever on so many levels.

We appreciate added value in a dining experience and that can take many forms. And just as you will weigh up in your mind what makes the best restaurant for you, be assured, the real ‘best’ restaurants will already have those in place.


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