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Food Studies: The Four Reasons People Choose a Restaurant

When dining out is your homework: In a Food Entrepreneurship class at NYU, Megan is learning what it takes to get people to choose your restaurant.

Food Studies features the voices of volunteer student bloggers from a variety of different food- and agriculture-related programs at universities around the world. Don't miss Megan's first post, in which she describes a semester in NYU's Food Studies program, writing about South Korea's kimchi crisis at the same time as studying wine list creation.

Sometimes it's hard to believe that I am in a place, academically, that I can consider dining out homework.

For me, the greater my interest in food, the more I cooked at home, and the less I ate out. The more I learned about industrialized agriculture and meat production, the more I wanted to be in my own kitchen with my carefully chosen ingredients, learning new skills, feeding friends. The more I valued food, the less I was willing to spend on mediocre or mundane meals. But my class in Food Entrepreneurship this semester is forcing me out of the kitchen and into the dining room. The class focuses on the restaurant as the pinnacle of food business.

Restaurants are important. The best ones are reserved for special occasions, and our memories of birthdays and anniversaries are made there. Think about the best meal you've ever had out. Does that not stick with you? I was 18 when I ate the best meal of my life, on a tiny patio in Arles, France. I can remember the vegetable gratin and rosé like it was yesterday. But while it's natural to wax nostalgic this way, our professor reminds us that restaurants have two basic goals: to make money and to feed people. He has identified four basic reasons one chooses a restaurant.

1. The food: From the taste of the dishes themselves to the way each ingredient is sourced.

2. The service: For this one, I think about my favorite bartender, or the owner who brought me edamame hummus while I waited for a table.

3. The design: From David Rockwell-designed wall fountains to easily accessible parking.

4. The X-factor: This can be anything from shrimp-flipping hibachi cooks to sheer exclusivity.

Maybe the best restaurants have all of these things going for them, but more often than not, just one is enough.

The more I think about this, the more true it seems. My family eats at this tiny Italian restaurant in North Newark almost religiously. It has a screen door, awful wine selection, and waitresses who are abrupt at best—but the food is astounding. There are family-style bowls of hand rolled cavatelli with house-made pot cheese and the world's most perfect Chicken Savoy. Nothing else matters.

What's your favorite restaurant? What is it about that place that brings you back, either literally or through memory? And does that reason (or reasons) fit into my professor's list, above?

To be continued... Megan is a student blogger for the Food Studies feature on GOOD's Food hub. If you enjoyed this, you should check out the rest of the Food Studies blogger gang here as well as Megan's personal blog, Foodie Can't Fail.

Photo: The Hillavator at Shadowbrook Restaraunt in Capitola-by-the-Sea, courtesy the author.

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