The ability to find a new restaurant and read up on what it's like is vastly easier now than it was even 10 years ago. However, the disconnect between all the reviews and pictures, and your experience when you actually go, can be rather large. Many times it results in the restaurant not quite living up to its image in your head.
You have to remember that a lot of the information you got ahead of time is the result of multiple visits and information that is essentially crowdsourced -- reviewers and bloggers usually bring friends so that they can all sample more dishes each time around. And regular reviewers on certain websites, assuming those reviewers are for real, often overemphasize the good or the bad.
But that does not mean that choosing a new restaurant is a random shot. There are ways to determine if a restaurant you're in is one that you want to add to your regular rotation.
The first time you go could be on an off-day, or a day when the staff has just had to deal with a particularly nasty customer right before you got there. Maybe the place is understaffed. If the service seems kind of lackluster when you first go, be a bit forgiving, finish your meal, and then go back a couple of weeks later.
If service is amazingly rude or you see hygiene issues, of course, you don't have to go back. But don't give up if the first visit is uninspiring. Give it a couple more visits and see what the average experience is.
Bloggers and reviewers visit places with friends for good reasons: They get more food on the table and can function as an impartial party who can verify whether those things you thought odd really were odd or not.
If you're new in town and don't know anyone, you might not be able to pull this off. But even if you're alone, order some more dishes and bring the leftovers home if the food tasted fine.
Wait After the Opening
If the restaurant is new, give it a few weeks before you go. Soft openings and grand openings often have growing pains like limited menus and sometimes dubious service as waitstaff are still learning the ropes. Let the staff get into a good routine before you try the food.
A rushed lunch half-hour is not the time to try a new place. As simple as that seems, many people do try to squeeze in a new restaurant experience when they don't have much time, and that can make the meal seem less than worthy. Go on a weekend or after work, when you have time to sit and take in the atmosphere, the general state of the clientele, traffic patterns, and so on.
Sometimes it's not the food but the friendly demeanor of the staff that makes the place worth visiting. Wouldn't you rather have a decent grilled cheese sandwich in a clean, friendly place with a comforting atmosphere than a gourmet dish in a not-so-clean place that doesn't seem to care about its customers? You can't determine what a place is really like when the lunch rush is buzzing.
Eventually you'll find restaurants that slowly become the places you want to return to on a regular basis. Be patient and open-minded, and you'll be a regular somewhere in no time. For more information, contact companies like Tony Roma's.