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Sunday, January 6, 2008

Packed Restaurant versus an Empty One

We used to live by the creed – if there isn’t anyone in the restaurant, it must not be good. But that doesn’t automatically mean a full restaurant is good.

Recently we went to Devon Street, which is Little India in North Chicago, and after much deliberating, we choose a cute looking restaurant that was completely packed, just off the beaten path. We were completely disappointed. From the lack of water to lack of seasonings – which is hard to do with Indian food! But it was a local place, we gave it a shot and it won’t stop me from frequenting local places again.

I wonder if the full versus empty debate also translate to whether a really full party is better than one with fewer people? With fewer people, aren’t you able to get to know everyone just a bit better? We were at Martini Park, a hot new club in downtown Chicago, which was packed with the after 1am crowd. While it was good people watching, I couldn’t carry on a conversation with another person… the music was too loud and the setup wasn’t conducive to this. But everyone there seemed to be having a blast, so does that mean it was better? Better than what? Doesn’t it really just come down to what you’re looking for? There are times when a more intimate evening is preferred and there are times when we all want to get lost in a loud, crazy crowd. This still doesn’t answer the question whether a full place is better than a less full one.

Take a chain place like Bennigan’s, TGIF or even McDonalds; these places are always packed with standing room only. But does that make them good? I’m a firm believer in supporting the independent businesses, slighted by my own independent restaurant sure… but it’s diversity, the variety and the passion that set these places apart. Next time you're looking for a place to eat, do yourself a favor and choose the local place, even if it isn’t packed. You might just find a hidden gem where you become the most important guest there.

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