Basic info. What’s the restaurant’s address? Is it a chain? What’s their phone number? Do they offer any cool specials or deals that readers would love to know?
Make multiple visits. You won’t be able to get a complete feel for a restaurant on a single visit. Achieve consistency by eating there multiple times, at different times of the day. What’s lunch like? What’s 8PM like?
The rushes. Does this restaurant handle lots of people well? Or is it like a congested street, hard to navigate and plain frustrating? You don’t want a reader to be turned off by a restaurant before he or she has a bite of the food.
What is the crowd like? If there are lots of college students in a restaurant, you know it’s probably easy on the wallet. If it’s a lot of grown-ups in suits, you might want to rethink the situation. The people that eat in a restaurant contribute to the aura of the restaurant overall.
Evaluate how well the employees know the food and the restaurant. If they serve “arroz con pollo”, does the waiter know what that means? Does he or she know what spices are in it? (spice allergy!) Does he or she know how long the restaurant’s been open? Do they cater?
See how well they can stretch and adapt to the diners. For a diner who doesn’t eat fish, can the chef switch out the protein in a dish for chicken? If a restaurant isn’t willing to adapt, it might mean that their dishes (or parts of their dishes) are pre-prepared, so it’d be impossible to change one detail. It might also reveal a chef that isn’t able to reach outside of the comfort zone.
Prices. This is so important. People want to know how much they are paying for their meal. Can they can eat lunch for a fiver? Or do they have to save up for a few days before trying out the place you recommend?
Food descriptions. Do not copy from the menu; it is written by people who are reaching for your money. Describe from what you get on your plate. Talk presentation. Talk smell, talk temperature, talk messiness, talk texture, and finally, talk taste. Make sure to present a definitive opinion about a dish, as to not leave the reader confused. Be sure to include vital details, like whether a dish is vegetarian, or made with organic or local or natural ingredients, or if the meat is grass-fed.
Give situational details about why a place might be great. You might not have a casual lunch at an expensive steakhouse, but you might celebrate an anniversary there. Perhaps a restaurant has very speedy service, offers a great deal for a group.
Tl;dr (too long, didn’t read). Add this towards the top, and emphasizeit somehow. Keep it short and simple, approximately one sentence with the best details about why or why not a restaurant deserves the reader’s time and money.
React to the menu. Is it as long as a phone book? Or is it one page? Is there a huge selection of desserts? Is there a drink menu? Decide how you feel about the information presented (health information, ingredients, allergy warnings).
React to the facilities. Give their bathroom a visit. Oh, no bathroom? Get outta there now. Is it sanitary, at least? People need to know these things; people have certain standards.
Ask what they’re known for. Then order it. Then decide if they’re worth being known.
Try appetizers, desserts, and cool drinks if you can. Again, ask what they’re known for, order it and evaluate.
Check to see if they have a website. Does it tell you about their fall specials when it’s the middle of summer? Warning signs…Check out their claims. Do they boast “authentic Vietnamese food”? After visiting the restaurant, decide if they live up to that statement.
Address the issue of authenticity. If a restaurant promises authentic food, then you have to inform the reader of the truth value of their claim. Diners will often go to restaurants for their authenticity when they are tired of Americanized food or missing home. If a restaurant claims to be a sort of fusion restaurant, then they have implicitly conceded that they are not authentic, but boasting some sort of fusion aspect of their food.
Portion sizes. How much bang do you get for your buck? Is it worth it? Are they stingy with side vegetables? Do they give you two drops of sauce?
Bring a notebook with you. Snap pics of your meal, and take what notes you can in the moment. After all, you lose crucial details of a meal the longer you wait to jot them down. Plus, a physical notebook tips off the waiter that perhaps you’re reviewing them, and that might speed things along…
How long does your meal take? Does the appetizer take 20 minutes? Warning signs…Does everything come gradually, or all at once? For example, in Chinese culture, it is typical for the dishes to come as they are finished, not all together, since each member shares each dish.
Research your food’s history or background. You owe it to your reader to tell them everything interesting about Japanese izakayas or Levantine shawarma. It helps to contextualize and give meaning to a meal, a restaurant, and a whole culture of food.
Don’t afraid to be a critic. No one wins if you write only good things. Negative criticism can help a restaurant improve, as well as warn a reader what dishes to stay away from.
Bring friends. There’s no way one person can get an accurate feeling for everything that a restaurant has to offer. Bring friends who wouldn’t mind sharing their food, as long as you’ll share yours.