How to Judge if a Restaurant is Good

What makes a good restaurant? Is it simply the food it serves, or the wow factor in its customer service?

How should customers define service quality and what are some considerations mystery judges make when assessing a restaurant?

Poached coral trout bamboo fungus cabbage in collagen soup

Wine and Dine, the definitive magazine for gourmands for the past 32 years, has a treasure trove of experience in judging top restaurants in Singapore. For over two decades, this local magazine has published the annual Singapore’s Top Restaurants guide, which is based on mystery judging of participating restaurants.

To train potential F&B mystery judges in the art and science of mystery judging, Wine and Dine conducted its inaugural certified F&B mystery judge training supported by e2i. This full-day course held at Crystal Jade Palace is the first I have come across, and its objectives are to:

  • Equip a mystery judge with knowledge and build confidence
  • Hone a mystery judge’s judging, scoring, and comparison skills
  • Build a community to uplift the F&B standards as a whole

This course is suitable for F&B industry players and individuals keen about the F&B industry or being an F&B mystery judge. Certified F&B mystery judges will be able to provide constructive feedback and rating during mystery tastings, which is helpful to improve the F&B establishment’s qualities from the perspective of the mystery judge and consumer.

Trainees were tasked to identify flaws in each of the dishes presented for lunch. In this dish, the olive fried rice was deliberately cooked without its signature wok hei taste.

During the training, some examples of what trainees learnt included:

  • Awareness of heuristics and biases, service excellence and expectations of different restaurant categories by Mr Benjamin Yang (Managing Director, Novitee)
  • Process and insights about F&B judging by Ms Alison Ang (Executive Director, Wine and Dine)
  • Sensory training by Mr David Chan (Director, ETC Services)

The concepts taught were also applicable for management and staff of restaurants who wish to improve customer satisfaction, retention, and repeat visits.

Fruits should be served on a clean, dry plate, with no leakage of fluids from the fruits.

Although it was a short one day course, I enjoyed the modules by the trainers as they provided numerous examples and case studies to illustrate how the concepts apply to real-life F&B situations.

At Crystal Jade Palace, teapots are topped up frequently to ensure diners enjoy the tea at a warm temperature. The restaurant also provides shawls to customers who feel cold during meals.

One useful concept that trainees learnt was the RATER Model, which was designed to provide a structured approach to assess factors that influence consumers’ perceptions of service quality. Satisfaction of dining experience and quality of service, together with price, are also applied together with the RATER model.

RATER stands for:

  • Reliability – ability to perform the promised service accurately and dependably
  • Assurance – knowledge and courtesy of employees and their ability to inspire trust and confidence
  • Tangibles – physical facilities, equipment and appearance of personnel
  • Empathy – caring and individualised attention is given to customers
  • Responsiveness – willingness to help customer and provide prompt service

During the sensory training, trainees practiced calibrating our taste buds, and explored various intensities of primary, secondary and tertiary tastes.

Trainees noted down the type and intensity of smell and tastes for each of the mystery drink, and did group voting to calibrate our tastes.

For the palate neutralisation concept, we experienced basic wine tasting with four primary tastes, and how wine should be served. We also noted aspects of the art and science of food descriptions (e.g. ethnicity, culinary skill, naturalness and healthiness) and the impact of some of the world’s greatest chefs on cuisines.

Trainees also sat through an assessment which would determine if they were suitable to be certified as an F&B mystery judge, and a graduation ceremony will be held at a later date.

Trainees discussed the procedure of tasting food during the appetiser. Food should be tasted from ‘light’ to ‘heavy’ flavours.

Going through the course was immensely insightful into the factors that determine a good restaurant, and how judges and customers can discern great service and food in an objective manner.

Special thanks to Wine and Dine and e2i for the invite and information on the certified F&B mystery judge course.

F&B management and staff who wish to learn more about the certified F&B mystery judge course and how to improve their establishments’ service quality can contact Wine and Dine at and e2i at