Anyone who has ever worked in a restaurant knows about surges — when large numbers of diners walk in in a matter of minutes and sit down to be served.
Mistakes can be made, tempers can flare and teamwork can be tested. In the front of the house, that manifests itself in slow service, wrong orders and tepid food.
And it’s the type of test employed to measure an eatery’s mettle in the new Bravo series “Best New Restaurant.”
The competition series, which premieres Wednesday (Jan. 21), takes place on location in 16 restaurants in New York, Miami, Los Angeles and Austin, Texas. In each hourlong episode, two restaurants go head to head in undertaking a series of tests and a winner is chosen. At season’s end — after semifinal and final rounds — one is named “Best New Restaurant,” and it will receive an editorial feature in Bon Appétit, a spot at the Vegas Uncorked food festival and $100,000.
But first they must run the gauntlet, which begins with a surge, or as the series calls it, “the pressure test,” which held some surprising results for series host and judge Tom Colicchio.
“Some of the restaurants did really well, some struggled,” Colicchio, who is also an executive producer with Gordon Ramsay, tells Zap2it. “And there was no rhyme or reason. You know, you’d expect some of the smaller restaurants that have only 40 seats to really struggle and some of them did OK.”
He continues, “And some of the larger restaurants that you’d think would have an easy time barely made it. So it all depends. … Simply, we said ’30 people are coming in,’ we turned on the cameras and that was it. There were some interviews but what happened happened.”
Then, there was “the undercover diner test,” where a food expert — a blogger, a columnist or a chef — poses as an average patron and orders, engages staff, asks questions — anything an average diner would do. And sometimes, staff would recognize them, which Colicchio says was actually a good thing.
“If you’re running a restaurant,” he says, “you’re paying attention to all the tables and you’re listening and you hear conversations, you’re overhearing things and I think that’s part of it. I think someone who can figure that out tells me that they’re up on their game. They’re not just kind of walking around aimlessly just taking care of business. They’re actually paying attention to every single table. They’re engaged. … So I think the times when we were found out, I think that was also part of the test.”