The city of Cuzco claims a wide variety of restaurants. They offer a diversity of food and in the last years have been innovating and improving the quality of their services. Many of them are not only work to improve the quality of their food but also to modernize their infrastructure and improve their location and the quality of the personnel with whom they work.
In many places there is a set of classifications which not only help restaurants by providing goals for them to work towards but also provide a guide for clients. They know what to expect when they find a restaurant with a Zagat classification, for example, or even better a Michelin star.
In Cuzco there is a rating system in place, though it is not a private one such as the above. Instead it is government run and is part of the way the Peruvian and department (state) governments attempt to regulate and improve the quality of their public offerings. It is run by Mincetur (The Ministry of Foreign Commerce and Tourism).
This scheme of one to five forks establishes a minimum basis of quality on which tourists and locals can count and, as one moves up the scale, requires improvement not only in the gastronomic offering but also in the physical restaurant, its personnel and its services. Five forks indicates a quality restaurant experience.
Despite the existence of this national ranking system which is implemented in Cuzco, from walking around the city and rarely seeing forks displayed on restaurant signs one might ask whether there really are quality restaurants of three, four, and five star quality. Since the requirements for classification are quite strict and involve more than simply cuisine, the majority of the restaurants do not submit themselves for classification. In this avoidance, the restauranteurs find a flexibility that allows them to make a profit and survive in a very competitive environment although it leaves clients wondering about the relevance of the system of forks.
For example, many places by day fit one classification in the rules, since it not only establishes number of forks but also defines types, while by night they might fit another. Thus by day the most establishments are restaurants while at night they convert themselves into bars.
One could argue this flexibility in the offering, even if it runs counter to the scheme of regulation, is not only beneficial to the business owners but also to visitors since it allows them a chance to choose from a wide range of options and prices. But it also means that quality may suffer since the establishment may not be focusing on providing the finest in a single specialization.
Cuzco’s restauranteurs worry less about whether their restaurant fits the categories than the attention they give to the client, since the city has an extremely competitive restaurant scene in which failure is very easy and common. As a result most place emphasize customer service and it is not rare to hear from tourists how warm and accommodating restaurant staff are.
Instead of forks, restaurants worry more about the kind of food for which there is a demand and how they might claim a portion of that demand. As a result, when walking through the city’s streets it is common to see signs offering “gourmet food”, “Andean food”, “Mexican food”, “pizzas and pastas”, etc. Not surprisingly many restaurants attempt to group a range of these to attract a wider clientele. Thus they might offer “Andean, Mexican, and Pizzas”.
We also see attempts to combine legal types such as café-restaurant or bar-restaurant, and so on.
Nevertheless, if we summarize the regulations, Cuzco’s good restaurants can be grouped into three classes. First and highest are those restaurants which provide excellent service and which serve food classified as “gourmet” whose infrastructure is adequate for the place where it is found. The second class is composed of those restaurants who offer fine service, with a la carte dishes. Usually the decoration and location of this class is of the urban type. Finally, the third class consists of restaurants with fine service who offer only a single type of cuisine.
MIncetur defines a restaurant as “an establishment which serves food and drink to the public, prepared on site, and providing the service in conditions as provided for in this rule and according to corresponding sanitary standards” . . . A Bar is “a portion of a restaurant characterized by having a bar or counter destined to the serving of diverse kinds of drinks.”
The rules even define the roles of the different service personnel to be found in a restaurant according to its classification. These include chefs, sous-chefs, maitre, dining room chief, captain of servers, severs, bar tender, receptionists, subaltern personnel, and service personnel (responsible for cleaning). While lesser restaurants will have fewer of these persons, a fine restaurant will have all of them.
The majority of Cuzco’s restaurants simply do not meet all of these requirements to obtain the top classifications. But one cannot take away their merit since they provide service and culinary experiences that are much appreciated. Restaurateurs tend to give priority to their own vision rather than to Mincetur’s classifications. Many which may fit into the third, and lowest formal category, consider themselves better and create their own classification. They feel that the most important thing is to be a restaurant that can offer a variety of kinds of food so that they might have higher earnings. Even so there are exceptional offerings where the physical restaurant is less important than the food served.