Cook, Serve, Delicious! is a simulation and time management game from Vertigo Games, creator of the similarly spectacular The Oil Blue. If you see a restaurant game and immediately think "casual diversion", let Cook, Serve, Delicious! change your mind. This isn't a light and simple easy to win time management game. It's a full-on simulation that makes you work for your money, pushes you to play faster than you thought possible, and teaches you to strategically plan menus to maximize income without turning the ever-picky customer base away. It's not an easy game to excel at, but it's an easy game to get hooked on, and the challenge of building and running your own restaurant from front to back is going to captivate you for weeks on end.
Here's the situation: you have taken control of a neglected restaurant in the SherriSoda Tower. Management has recently decided to re-open the restaurant, giving you total control over its operations and challenging you to turn it into a successful and busy establishment. Not only do you have to handle the day to day operations of the place (serving food, scrubbing toilets, taking out the trash), you also have to plan menus based on demand and income, survive health inspections, purchase new equipment, upgrade existing items, and deal with impatient customers. It's a lot like a more involved version of the classic Lemonade Stand mixed with a bit of urgency from the Papa's series of food service games.
Cook, Serve, Delicious! can be divided into two main sections: food preparation and restaurant management. During the prep phase, you man the counter and tend to customer orders, building every burger and pouring every soda you sell. When someone enters, simply select their number to get a detailed picture of what they want. A menu appears on the right side of the screen with context sensitive options, allowing you to add toppings, adjust sizes, or otherwise prepare the food to order. When it's all done, send it away and the customer walks away happy. During the long work day, you'll also have to deal with chores that pop up, which are handled in a similar manner. You can use the mouse to control everything, but we recommend you familiarize yourself with the keyboard commands as early as you can, as it's a much faster and more precise way to play. The time you'll save later in the game is worth sharpening the learning curve.
When you're not feeding the masses during the business day, you'll tend to the business side of the restaurant. Using the money you earn from each work day, you can choose food items to buy or upgrade, then set a few to active status, allowing customers to order them the next day. Some foods require certain pieces of equipment, which you'll need to buy. Foods also affect something called buzz, the general attractiveness your restaurant has to potential patrons. You'll want to get this as high as you can, naturally, but managing it is a tricky task, as you will see once you start reading the pros and cons list for each menu item you purchase.
Analysis: When most people see a restaurant-themed game, visions of Diner Dash and similar casual games come to mind. In order to appreciate the depth and scope present in Cook, Serve, Delicious!, set those ideas aside right away. This game is detailed and complex (though not prohibitively so), offering opportunities for mastery as you experiment with different approaches to management and food service. Those sound like boring business-type words, but the game is anything but dull. Beyond the main game, there are loads of unlockables and even more secrets to find, not to mention surprise events that trip you up from time to time.
It will serve you well in Cook, Serve, Delicious! to read every bit of text you see, carefully consider your options, and try everything before adding it to your active menu. Player preference drives food choices almost as much as the raw numbers, as some foods are more annoying to prepare and you'll naturally want to nix them from the menu as soon as you can. This turns Cook, Serve, Delicious! into a sort of self-management tool as well, teaching you about your own playing style and business management concepts while you play. Bet you didn't expect a game set in a restaurant to turn into a philosophical experience, did you?
Cook, Serve, Delicious! may not be what you expect from hearing descriptions or looking at screenshots, but trust us when we say it's so much better than any image gallery could convey. With depth to rival a strategy game and carefully controlled chaos ruling the action sequences, Cook, Serve, Delicious! is a rare release that encourages you to play until you master every nuance of gameplay. You'll have a great time doing it, and once you reach that zen-like state, your little food hut will be a sight to behold.