The popularity of restaurants

Image by flickr user Ned RaggettImage by 20080706hominy.jpg Hominy Grill is one of Charleston's most well-known and well-liked restaurants, but how did it get there?

Two words are most important when it comes to a restaurant building a regular base of customers: "local" and "hospitality." That's what the Charleston Mercury talks most about in a recent article about how restaurants become popular. It doesn't matter if you're talking about locals or tourists, those two things matter and can take a restaurant a long way.

While the story talks a lot about New York and that city's famed Union Square Cafe run by Danny Meyer, Meyer's advice (all conveniently available in his book "Setting the Table") goes beyond his own restaurant or his own town.

From the Charleston Mercury, regarding local food at reasonable prices:

Local foods star at Union Square Cafe just as they do at popular Charleston restaurants. Meyer was one of the first restaurateurs to support the Greenmarket and credit farmers on his menu some twenty years ago. From the beginning Meyer has had a keen sense of community. I first met him in 1985, when Truman and I were pressing for historic district designation for the Ladies’ Mile neighborhood. Meyer was busy getting the restaurant going, but he took the time to hear me out and subsequently wrote a persuasive letter to New York’s Landmarks Preservation Commission.

Meyer stresses relaxed excellence and reasonable prices — “I would be mortified if accused of overcharging,” he says. There will be no tacky plating charge if you want to share a dish. In fact, our server suggested we might want to share the gnocchi and attractively presented it to us in two small copper pans.

And while New York can definitely compete in the local products game, could a city known for its rudeness ever take on Charleston's Southern hospitality? I think we would win that one hands down, personally, but Meyer has certainly been trying his best. The Mercury continues:

Jamie Waby, manager of Carolina’s, has also read Meyer’s book and was particularly impressed by how the staff at Union Square calmed a diner who had left her credit card and cell phone in a cab — they urged her to enjoy lunch, not to worry about credit and retrieved the diner’s property before she finished lunch.

Carolina’s has been a local institution for decades and has recently made a comeback in popularity, with Waby exuding hospitality out front and the talented new chef Jeremiah Bacon in the kitchen — “We are customer oriented, serve accessible food. We want people to come here several times a week,” says Chef Bacon.

There's more to it than just local food and treating customers well, but those two concepts, along with consistency and uniqueness, are what make or break a restaurant.

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