Does Popular Equal Edible?

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When I waitressed at a country club where the manager didn't approve of us servers disparaging any dish, my stock response to customers who asked about a notoriously bad entree was a cheery "People order it!"

I always figured guests understood what my honest non-endorsement meant. But in this age of crowd-sourcing, I suspect the gambit's lost its sting. Increasingly, it seems, servers and diners alike are conflating popularity with merit.

At an uptown restaurant last night, a woman at the table next to mine scanned the menu and asked her server "What's the most popular?" Not surprisingly, he reeled off a list of dishes with the most eye-catching ingredients and intriguing descriptions. I don't need to have eaten in a restaurant to know anything with bacon or lobster is bound to sit high atop the popularity pile. But I do rely on knowledgeable servers to steer me away from travesties like the nearly inedible beef dish that's apparently winning popularity contests at this eatery.

Still, I can't blame the woman for asking. When I ask servers for recommendations, they now almost always launch into a spiel about the restaurant's most popular items. Sometimes, of course, popularity is warranted: I don't go to Twisted Root for a garden salad. But in most restaurants -- especially newish ones -- basing an order on what everyone else is ordering makes no more sense than only listening to the Billboard 100 or only watching the current top-grossing movie.

I believe a server, who's likely tasted his or her way through the menu, should be able to provide better guidance than a popularity index. But what do you think? Is popularity a reliable indicator of a dish's excellence? (If you want to know which restaurant I'm talking about here, tune into my Dish review in the Observer in two weeks.)


Location Info

Twisted Root Burger Co.

2615 Commerce St., Dallas, TX

Category: Restaurant

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