Aside from the quality of your food, your restaurant's rating is also directly affected by the comfort level and attractiveness of the decor, the quality of service, and the appearance of your restaurant from the outside. You can upgrade the furniture in your restaurants for better comfort, increase the skill of your staff with monthly training, and pay money to renovate the exterior for better scores in that aspect.
Perhaps the most challenging aspect of the game is setting up your restaurant so the staff can deliver dishes as quickly and efficiently as possible to customers. You'll find yourself constantly moving tables around the restaurant and adjusting the position of stoves, dishwashers, and dumbwaiters in the kitchen to maximize efficiency. Unfortunately, there's no easy way to anticipate bottlenecks in the operation, so you must watch your staff and the way they move about in your restaurants to determine how to become more efficient. It probably would have been easier to manage your staff if Restaurant Empire had let you assign specific servers to specific tables, for instance.
Winning cooking contests will net you bonus money, new recipes, and prestige.
Aside from a few flaws, the game's interface is adequate. You can actually access every function using only your mouse, though if you wish to have complete and instantaneous control over the game, you can access most of the important charts and interface items using keyboard shortcuts. However, later on in the game, you'll have to build and manage multiple restaurants, but you'll have to fill and configure each of your new establishments' bathrooms and kitchens manually. The game would definitely have benefited from some sort of templating feature that would let you drag and drop pre-made bathrooms, kitchens, and other areas into new restaurants.
Restaurant Empire's graphics are pretty good for a game of this sort. You can zoom in and out and rotate the view to any convenient angle. The food in the recipe screens is actually rendered pretty nicely, but the game's graphics falter a bit in the adventure modes, such as in the kitchen stadiums during the cooking contests. The characters look blocky and are animated stiffly; nevertheless, Restaurant Empire's fully 3D graphics are better than what you'll find in most management games. The game's sound effects are adequate, including, as you might expect, plenty of eating noises and chatter from your customers. Some voice acting is included in the adventure modes when you're interacting with NPCs, but for the most part the game's dialogue and information appears only in subtitles at the bottom of the screen. The music tracks in the game fade in and out at strange times and sometimes sound as if they were lifted straight out of a 1970s adult film.
At times, Restaurant Empire can be frustrating, but careful observation of your restaurant operation usually yields an obvious solution. It takes some time to learn about all the options in the game, but the well-designed and extensive tutorial should bring even beginners up to speed in a reasonable amount of time. Restaurant Empire should appeal to fans of the Iron Chef television show or other cooking shows on cable television, and, despite a few shortcomings in its interface and its presentation, it also provides a deep and enjoyable experience for fans of management simulations.