The way AAA evaluates restaurants is changing to reflect a better-educated consumer and less interest among the public in the trappings of formal dining.
Earlier this week, the association released an updated version of its restaurant Approval Requirements & Diamond Rating Guidelines. That's the tool AAA inspectors use to evaluate restaurants.
Michael Petrone, AAA’s director of content development, says food-related criteria will carry more weight than has been the case in the past. Food-related attributes will now account for 50 percent of a given restaurant’s diamond rating. "Previously, food-related elements accounted for 40 percent of a restaurant’s overall diamond rating. The ten percent difference was shifted from service and décor elements," explains Julie Hall, pubic relations manager for AAA.
Petrone cites growing interest among consumers in the food-related aspects of the dining experience—and less concern for the formal aesthetics and service components—as the reason behind the changes.
“Diners are more educated than ever before about food trends, preparation styles and ingredient sourcing,” he says. “They are eager to interact with knowledgeable wait staff and culinary experts, learning how dishes are prepared and where ingredients originate.”
The last updates to the standards occurred in 2009. Periodic adjustments to the guidelines are often prompted by a “trickle-down” effect, as offerings previously specific to higher-rated restaurants have become more prevalent, according to the association. For example, chef’s tasting menus and suggested food and beverage pairings are now introduced at the three- and four-diamond rating levels. Menu ingredients are evolving as well, increasing access to once-rare items such as farm-branded products, ancient grains, locally sourced ingredients and artisan creations.
Says AAA: “As the restaurant industry continues to change, AAA inspectors continually note the newest dining and hospitality trends. The industry’s most talented chefs, for example, are expanding beyond the fine-dining world to spearhead new fast-casual chains, a domain typically reserved for fast-food restaurants.”
AAA ratings are taken seriously in the industry and among those who dine out regularly. AAA inspections are unannounced and known for their comprehensive nature. AAA rates restaurants across nearly all price points. Basic AAA approval is given for standards such as cleanliness. Approved restaurants are visited by AAA representatives and awarded between one and five diamonds, indicating the levels of food quality, service, décor and ambiance.
Only 64 North American restaurants (0.2 percent of restaurants rated by AAA) earned five diamonds for 2016, including three newcomers: Gabriel Kreuther (NYC), Tè (Leola, PA) and The Georgian Room (Sea Island, GA).
Check out AAA's entertaining and informative videos about how the inspections work.