1. Improved service. Good service is hard work, but it’s not brain surgery. It’s attention to details, preferences, listening to and remembering what guests say and reading their body language.

I haven’t waited tables in 20 years and I still can’t help overhearing what customers near me order, memorizing that and then being blown away that the server returns to the table asking, “And who gets the steak?” Really? This isn’t hard!

Any restaurateur who wants to improve service should hire Vincenzo Gabrielle as a consultant. Troy Ritchie, too.

It doesn’t have to be white-tablecloth fancy, it has to be good, and it’s not that hard to give good service. (Cooking? That’s hard as hell!)

2. Improved restaurants, not new ones. Any new restaurant entering the scene only divides the pie into low-profit slices. Not only is there a limited pool of customers, there’s an even smaller share of customers who prefer good, creative, innovative independent restaurants.

I doubt 20 percent of the people living in this great restaurant town ever go to a great restaurant, yet we’ve got new restaurants opening up all the time. The return on investment is too low to open multiples here.

3. More craft bartenders. We’re already excited about clever chefs, but the brilliant cocktails coming from restaurant bars is just amazing. I never thought I’d say it, but what I can get at the bar now carries just as much weight as great food when I make a restaurant choice.

And what bartenders have going for them is the old saying of “what’s old is new again.” Don’t pull that nonsense in the kitchen and send me a Beef Wellington. But make me a perfect Old Fashioned and I’m impressed.

4. Less “restaurant of the moment” faux-excitement. I’d bet that for every five people who tell me about their new restaurant find that three of them are fair-weather foodies who never went for the food or drink or service in the first place. They just want to be there because it’s the “in place.”

How do you spot them? Half the time they butcher the name of the restaurant. The other half they can’t tell you what they enjoyed there; they just remembered that, “Everybody goes there!” (Well, at least that restaurant’s getting their money, so it’s not all bad.)

5. More small plates. Bistro 1860’s three-size plate menu is a boon for guests looking to purchase wisely, be that a budgetary or dietary move. Buy what as much as you want. I love it. (Whether that’s easy to execute in the kitchen or generates enough revenue per customer, I don’t know. I’ll ask those fellers about that sometime. Meantime, try it out. You will not regret it.)

6. Reduced portions. Sound like the flipside of the above wish? Not really.

Gigantic portions do not imply “value” anymore in a nation desperately battling obesity. People staggering out of restaurants balancing to-go containers on their expansive keg bellies and proclaiming, “It only cost me $9.99” … we need so much less of that.

I don’t need my gut aching because I’m too cheap to walk away from food on the plate. My aching gall bladder (a diagnosis by my nurse wife) is one reason I quit reviewing restaurants. Eating more than I wanted and needed was part of the game, and I hated that part of it.

7. More beer dinners. I love wine dinners. LOVE them. Louisville restaurants do an excellent job of them.

But I’d love to see more beer dinners like the one I enjoyed at Harvest last summer (BBC supplied the brew). Beer is equally complementary to food as wine, and with the surge in craft brewing here, we need more chefs to take advantage of that trend.

So there you go, Roger Baylor and Jerry Gnagy, your invitation to wow us with your pairing knowledge.

8. Less pork belly. Yeah, I know I have to ask God’s forgiveness for that, and I loves me some hog!

But pork belly is too common on too many menus and specials–despite the fact that it’s being cooked magnificently. It’s like hot rodder’s flames or a quilter’s star patterns—we’ve seen enough of it already!

Same for bacon. Time to relegate it to an ingredient and accent again. It’s not really a center-of-the-plate thing.

9. Better restaurant websites. Too many restaurants’ and brewpubs’ websites are embarrassingly outdated. When you go to a blog that reads, “Last post, May 2009,” that says a lot about your understanding of electronic marketing. (I’d bet that operator is still using newspaper advertising!)

If you can’t update your menu online, just yank the whole site. That’s why people come to your pages, not because they want to see food photography shot by an employee.

If you have an interesting chef or some cool craft bartenders, promote them (and their drink menus) just as heavily. People love restaurant personalities.

And please be sure your email alert programs work. I’ve signed up three times to receive email alerts from one of the city’s top restaurants, and I still don’t get them. I’ve even called and said, “I sign up and don’t get them,” but the restaurant’s answer is, “Really? That’s weird.”

Suggestion: Make sure the media folk get your emails even if you have to send them personally.

Secondly, consider skipping the website and using a Facebook page. It’s free and it’s where everyone is e-huddling.

10. More quality restaurant publicists. This realization of this wish is dependent up on restaurateurs being smart enough to pick the right ones and publicists being professional enough to do the job right when they’re picked.

It also means publicists help the media by making it as simple as possible for us to move the message to the web or print. In other words, partner with us by not making us do your job.

For heaven’s sake, no more PDFs or JPEG ads you expect the media to retype. Just send a Word doc that’s format free, because the first thing we do is strip out all your carefully placed bolds and italics and slash all your faux-quotes about “I was born in a bean field and nursed by a cow, so there is no more farm-to-table-focused chef than me!”

And, sorry to tell you this, restaurateurs, but their job isn’t to flatter you with absurd story lines and made up quotes that never, ever, EVER make it to print. Their job is to convince us you have a story—and then let us talk to you about it.

Suggestion: Just give your friendly reporter/editor a call and say, “This is cool. Want to know more?” It’ll save us both a lot of trouble.

Happy New Year!

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Steve Coomes
Steve Coomes is a restaurant veteran turned award-winning food, spirits and travel writer. In his 24-year career, he has edited and written for multiple national trade and consumer publications including Nation's Restaurant News and Southern Living. He is a feature writer for Louisville magazine, Edible Louisville & The Bluegrass and Food & Dining Magazine. The author of two books, "Country Ham: A Southern Tradition of Hogs, Salt & Smoke," and the "Home Distiller's Guide to Spirits," he also serves as a ghostwriter for multiple clients.

9 thoughts on “Steve Coomes’ 10 wishes for Louisville restaurants in 2013

  1. I’d love are more vegetarian options. and what I mean by that is, more than just mushrooms. I hate mushrooms and find it very discouraging when that is my only choice on a menu!

  2. I’d love are more vegetarian options. and what I mean by that is, more than just mushrooms. I hate mushrooms and find it very discouraging when that is my only choice on a menu!

  3. You nailed it Steve!
    Can I add one point to your #7? IPA’s are not the end all and be all of beer! I am enthused so many restaurant owners are offering craft beers in their establishments but please add a wit or hefeweizen to the list.
    Even if all your IPA’s are from different breweries, if all you have are IPA then you arent really getting the point. Its like offering six different wines but they are all Cabernets. Get it?

  4. You nailed it Steve!
    Can I add one point to your #7? IPA’s are not the end all and be all of beer! I am enthused so many restaurant owners are offering craft beers in their establishments but please add a wit or hefeweizen to the list.
    Even if all your IPA’s are from different breweries, if all you have are IPA then you arent really getting the point. Its like offering six different wines but they are all Cabernets. Get it?

  5. AMEN on the publicists. I’d like to know how many times I had to email the PR people to BEG them to explain their releases. And to give me actual information instead of gratuitous “quotes.”

  6. AMEN on the publicists. I’d like to know how many times I had to email the PR people to BEG them to explain their releases. And to give me actual information instead of gratuitous “quotes.”

  7. Some really great points here, Steve! I’d like to add one more to the list:

    Original Decor. We have some fantastic restaurants downtown or in NuLu, but all of them are almost completely identical: Exposed or painted brick walls, aged or original hardwood floors, exposed beam ceilings. They have no real personality, and each restaurant should be unique in decor AND menu. I love how the atmosphere of Pat’s Steakhouse is completely different than Seviche which is completely different than Volare. Unfortunately, almost every restaurant in the up and coming sections of the city are almost cookie cutter in design. Remodels need to be the big suggestion of 2013.

  8. Some really great points here, Steve! I’d like to add one more to the list:

    Original Decor. We have some fantastic restaurants downtown or in NuLu, but all of them are almost completely identical: Exposed or painted brick walls, aged or original hardwood floors, exposed beam ceilings. They have no real personality, and each restaurant should be unique in decor AND menu. I love how the atmosphere of Pat’s Steakhouse is completely different than Seviche which is completely different than Volare. Unfortunately, almost every restaurant in the up and coming sections of the city are almost cookie cutter in design. Remodels need to be the big suggestion of 2013.

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