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X-Planations: Yonkers Chef Peter X. Kelly Discusses Great Restaurants

Xaviars at Piermont is set for dinner.
Xaviars at Piermont is set for dinner. Photo Credit: Peter X. Kelly

YONKERS, N.Y. -- What makes a great restaurant?

It's a question I mull over -- some may say obsess over -- constantly. The answer is very personal and individual and may be better phrased as this:  What makes a restaurant great for you?

Whether it's a four-star culinary mecca with choreographed service or an around the corner casual café that carries the boutique beer you love, great restaurants come in all shapes and sizes. What makes a great restaurant great is the management's understanding and commitment to hospitality.

Over the past 30 years I have had the great opportunity to open four restaurants in suburban New York state. Each one has what we hope is a unique character yet all are tied together with one goal: “To exceed guest expectations 100 percent of the time."  I believe that hospitality is defined by graciousness, and to be gracious in a restaurant setting is to be in tune with the desires of your clientele.

This is not just our company’s mission statement but it's my personal aspiration. Of course we've made mistakes along the way -- and continue to -- but that's another part of what makes a great restaurant: To fess up to problems and right any wrongs.

It also means paying attention to the fact that the bar is always rising. What was great yesterday may only be wonderful tomorrow.

Consistency is key, not just with food but with service, ambiance and commitment to hospitality.

To be considered "great," restaurants need to be just as good on Wednesday as they are on Saturday, not just in October but in March, from year to year from staff change to economic downturn and so on.

Here are my top eight tips on what a diner should always expect from a great restaurant.

  • A guest should feel comfortable yet cosseted.
  • Service should be friendly yet not familiar.
  • Service should also be professional but not pretentious.
  • The wine list should be comprehensive yet approachable.
  • On the menu: Flavors that are unexpected but not ill- conceived.
  • Food that is current but not trendy.
  • Cuisine that is new but not nouvelle.
  • An overall gracious hospitable experience.

It may sound repetitive to say but great restaurants come in many different guises, but when you’re in one… you know it.

Next Week: "Simple Entertaining"

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