If you live in a small town, you probably know all of the good places to eat. Indeed, you might know all of the places to eat. The McDonald’s just off the highway. Maybe a locally owned restaurant or two. In small towns, there just are not a lot of options and that makes choosing a restaurant, or choosing to stay home, a lot easier.
In cities of almost any size, however, you have a lot more dining options from which to choose. Even if you eat out a lot (and I suspect most Saving Advice readers do not), you really cannot have firsthand knowledge of every restaurant. You know the restaurants that you have tried. You might know about the restaurants your friends have tried. That still is probably only a fraction of the restaurants that are available to you.
As cost conscious diners, you want to know that when you dine in a restaurant of any kind you’ll get both good value for your money and a good dining experience. Let’s face it: A cheap meal that is inedible is much more of a waste of money than a great meal that costs what it is worth. Let’s also not forget that dining out can be great fun and, for some of us, a worthwhile way to spend money.
Even in large cities, it was not easy to learn about restaurants as recently as fifteen years ago. Then, foodies were dependent on newspapers and magazines for reviews. Now, however, we have the Internet and the Internet can save you a lot of heartache, wasted time and wasted money if you are thinking of going out for dinner. Here is how I learn about restaurants before I decide to visit them:
Visit Yelp: Yelp is an on-line community of people who visit restaurants and other businesses and then write about them. It is a great way to find out what people in your community think about restaurants before you decide to try them. Better yet, if you are inclined to write and actively participate in the community, you can be invited to attend free Yelp-sponsored events and score some free food and free swag.
Visit the Experts On-Line Professional restaurant reviewers, like Scott Joseph who has an excellent Flog (Food Log) here in Orlando, write about local restaurants that are new or just noteworthy. If the Yelp community likes a restaurant, it is always good to see whether the experts agree before you venture out.
Get to Know the Blogosphere: Lots of people like to write about what they eat. Platforms like Yelp do not offer the flexibility or freedom that a personal blog offers. Start to explore local bloggers, like Foodalicious Follies which is a great blog focused on the area around the North Carolina Research Triangle. Young and emerging food writers can often be found on their own blogs.
Visit the Restaurant Website: If you are hungry for something in particular and want to try a new restaurant, make sure you check the restaurant’s website to ensure that the menu includes whatever it is that you fancy. A trip to a new restaurant can quickly sour if you want one thing and the restaurant does not offer it.
If you do your research, you can find a lot of great information about local restaurants that you might otherwise miss. Take the time to know what to expect at a restaurant and you are much more likely to find a restaurant that you will enjoy. That should help to ensure that you get good value when you eat out.
Where do you like to eat out? How do you learn about new venues? Do you research restaurants before you travel? How do you do it?