Experience the life of a chef in Restaurant Empire, a simulation in which players design, create and manage a chain of restaurants. Players assume the role of newly graduated chef Armand LeBoeuf and follow the daily travails he endures while attempting to cultivate a successful chain of restaurants against the economic might of OmniCorp, a powerful multi-national corporation. Across the game's 18 scenarios, players will need to master the finer points of restaurant management, from the actual layout and design of the decor to purchasing equipment, hiring staff, acquiring ingredients, creating dishes, and even competing in cooking contests to earn valuable exposure.
Once they've created their dream restaurant, players will need to staff it with waiters, a maitre d', kitchen personnel, and (of course) a chef. Each chef is skilled in three types of cuisine -- American, French, and Italian -- and is proficient in particular dishes and specific courses (breakfast, main course, appetizers, desserts, and soup). Over time they will even gain experience, and the quality of their dishes improves as a result. Throughout the course of the game players will encounter patrons who sell high-quality ingredients and new recipes, or dispense advice to help improve the menu.
Food preparation is only one aspect of a successful restaurant, however, and players will need to ensure that the establishment's rating steadily increases by offering efficient service, refurbishing the decor, remodeling the exterior, and even advertising through various media in the hopes of enticing new clientele. Although players start out in modest surrounds in France, as their profit and prestige increase, they can expand globally, establishing restaurants in Rome and Los Angeles. Aside from the main campaign mode, players can participate in a free-form "Sandbox" mode where they can operate away from the pressures and problems of the campaign mode.
Restaurant Empire looks very similar to Hotel Giant, which had a Sims-like view to the action but in complete 3D and using a great camera. This reliance on an established engine freed up the designers to pack Restaurant Empire with features and tons of detail I'd never given much thought to; however, like Hotel Giant, Restaurant Empire can get buried in menus, making any newcomer feel overwhelmed with the amount of control they have (even with the complete tutorial).
Besides building each new restaurant in your empire from the ground up, you have to hire, train and fire staff, organize your kitchen efficiently, and establish a menu to attract a specific clientele. Players also have the chance to take their chef to an Iron Chef-like competition. If they win, the chef's prestige increases. In turn, this means more customers for the restaurant that chef works at. This feature adds a level of complexity not found in tycoon games. But one of the most compelling aspects of Restaurant Empire is optimizing your restaurant configuration to maximize efficiency. Having great food is one thing, but if you can't get the food to the customer fast enough, they won't enjoy it as much. However, you'll have to repeat this process many times over with each new restaurant you open. There's seemingly no way to copy a successful restaurant and plunk it down in a new location. I can understand having to change the décor to suite local taste, but having to arrange everything again and again got on my nerves after a while. My restaurants tended to have a similar layout when I came up with an optimal plan so a template option would have been much appreciated.
There are two modes of play: Sandbox and Campaign (with 18 "missions"). The Campaign puts you in the greasy apron of Armand LeBoeuf who has just taken control of a restaurant from his uncle. There's a story present, which is light on drama but at least there's something to push you forward. This is in sharp contrast to other tycoon games, which feature zilch story and instead become meandering experiences with no clear direction or interesting events. Restaurant Empire one-ups the tycoon genre because of the story and different things to do (i.e. the cook-offs). Sandbox mode lets you go nuts as there are few restrictions, but after a while, because of the lack of direction, you may lose interest.
Although Restaurant Empire does a lot right, there are still some "holes", including how the staff is handled. I've always assumed that a server's mainstay is tips, not the wages that are often just above minimum wage. In Restaurant Empire there are no tips. This means they rely on you and if you pay poorly there's a corresponding drop in service levels. As a result you have to pay them more when in real life they would just get canned.
Restaurant Empire may not grab everyone, but those that like management sims, dealing with the minutia of number crunching and furniture placement, and still enjoy The Sims will have a good time with it. It's not perfect, but for the tycoon genre it's near the top of the heap.
People who downloaded Restaurant Empire have also downloaded:
Restaurant Empire II, Railroad Tycoon 3, RollerCoaster Tycoon 3, Railroad Tycoon 2: Platinum, Rise of Nations, Sid Meier's Railroads!, Rise of Nations: Rise of Legends, Port Royale: Gold, Power and Pirates
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