This sounded like something too good to resist, notwithstanding my already slightly rounded waistline. “Great, yes,” I replied, and a couple of days after got stuck into the task, which of course was done ‘on the quiet’ - the finalists were not to know who the judges were.
Public voting had already chosen the top three establishments in each of the 13 categories, and so when the list of finalists came through, I saw that I would need to visit 33 eateries in the next seven weeks. Some restaurants had been nominated for more than one award. This would take some doing, so I started with lunch that day at one of the newcomer cafés.
Either Management or my friend David joined me, and we always chose different items on the menu so that we could taste a range of the food offered. We also went to places in the same category at the same time of day - after all, lunch is a different experience to dinner. Marks are awarded for many aspects - range and taste of food, ambience, ordering experience, value for money, service and so on.
Some of our restaurants are indeed excellent: generally the winners. There were five judges in all, and eight of my 13 favourites ended up being those that took the prizes - in some categories it was hard to choose the best, with scores being very close. A couple of the winners did surprise me, as we had not enjoyed our time with them.
I know how much these awards mean to the owners of the restaurants and those who work in them. I recommend that those who didn’t win this time take the opportunity to visit those that took home the awards to see what can be learned. There were a few places where the food, service and ambience were not up to standard - investments in more modern premises, better products, training and quality of delivery are required.
I learned a lot from these eating experiences. I have decided that the difference between good service and exceptional service is that it is ok for good service to be perfunctory - in other words, it can be done well, but with little real interest. Those meals I really enjoyed were where the service was given with something extra, going the additional mile, really knowing the menu, and taking time to add a few personal words. It doesn’t really matter whether it is a quick cheap snack or a fine dining experience, all can be provided with exceptional service.
So it is now back to normal life for Management, David and myself: although I am thinking it is time to use my gym membership more, or perhaps I should take some exercise classes at the new place I keep reading about on Facebook. I would like to think my trousers have shrunk in size, but I fear that is not the case.
Seeing the siles and celebrations of the winners at the Restaurant Awards ceremony does show the importance of being recognised by the public as the best. All the winners were proud of their achievements. Let us hope that this yearly competition continues to drive up quality and standards at all of our restaurants here in Muscat.
Nick lives and works in Muscat and the views expressed in this column are entirely his own. You can e-mail Nick at email@example.com