Around the early 2000s I got into management sim games in a big way. They were something that I could spend a lot of time on when I wanted to, but that I could also easily pick up and put down when I needed to focus or classes or papers or some other college-type responsibility. I loved Roller Coaster Tycoon and played a bit of Zoo Tycoon as well, but my bread and butter were restaurant sims. Diner Dash and Burger Island were two of my favorites, and Cook, Serve, Delicious! is their much harder, faster spiritual successor.
Vertigo Gaming bills Cook, Serve, Delicious! as a “hardcore restaurant sim,” and it certainly lives up to this description. What allows the game to be so fast-paced is that it no longer relies upon a point and click system to manage your restaurant, but instead uses either your keyboard or a gamepad to control the action. The game also allows you to completely remap your keybindings for every menu item, so you can customize it to whatever will be easiest for you to remember. The bulk of the gameplay is cooking orders and doing chores by hitting buttons in the correct sequence. Sound simple? Don’t be so sure.
As you purchase additional recipes and then upgrade those recipes, you’ll quickly discover just how many keybindings may be involved in a single meal. For many menu items there are multiple steps that you must perform in the correct order as well – cooking the hamburger patty before you put it on the bun, filleting the fish before you cook it, chopping vegetables to put into soup, and so on. The more you upgrade your restaurant, the more challenging the recipes become. Fortunately, the game also allows you to try out new menu items before you decide to purchase them, so you can get a sense of how challenging they will be. (Thanks to this function, I will probably never add shish kabobs to my restaurant’s menu.)
Of course, more complex recipes will bring in more money, so upgrading your menu items is an important step of growing your restaurant. Your restaurant starts out with no stars and the goal is to eventually turn it into a fancy five-star establishment. As Graham Smith points out on Rock, Paper, Shotgun, however, upgrading your restaurant is kind of a bittersweet moment. Recently my restaurant finally got its second star, accompanied by a notification that I could no longer serve pretzels or corn dogs because they aren’t seen as classy enough by my current customer base. And I suppose I understand the logic there. Limitations on what type of food you serve based upon customers’ expectations of what a two-star or five-star restaurant should have are realistic. But I would love to have a little more customization available. Maybe I want to be a five-star restaurant that serves both expensive wines and gourmet corn dogs.
In this way, I wish Cook, Serve, Delicious! had borrowed a bit more heavily from some of the earlier restaurant sims I mentioned above. Even small, superficial things like being able to choose the color of your curtains, or the tile on your walls would make the restaurant feel more tailored to each player. I’d also love something like the Test Kitchen from Chocolatier, another of my favorite sim series. The Test Kitchen let you play around with different ingredients so that you could discover your own recipes. It wasn’t entirely freeform – there were still certain combinations of ingredients that wouldn’t create anything. But I can’t shake the idea of a customized burger that I get to name and make my daily special.
Cook, Serve, Delicious! also has a complicated “buzz” system. Buzz is how popular your restaurant is and it is influenced by anything from what items you have on your menu to how many perfect or bad orders you served the previous day. Higher buzz (measured in a percentage) increases the number of customers who enter your restaurant on that day, thereby increasing your potential number of orders served and money earned. Figuring out how to structure your menu to get the highest percentage of buzz possible becomes one of the major strategies in the game. Serving 3 or more “healthy” foods will give you a positive boost to your buzz, but those food may also be more complicated or time consuming to cook. Serving alcohol in your restaurant will generate negative buzz (because your restaurant is in an office building and apparently it’s frowned upon to serve alcohol there), but wine and beer are easy to serve and are two of the more expensive menu items. Weighing these pros and cons makes managing your daily buzz a complex but interesting part of the game.
My customization wishes aside, Cook, Serve, Delicious! is a fantastic management sim. It becomes extremely challenging as the game progresses, and there are even Steam leaderboards to measure your skill against other players. It successfully ups the difficulty of traditional restaurant sims while still capturing the spirit of the genre. You’ll enjoy this game if you love management sims, testing your reflexes, and making yourself hungry while gaming.
Cook, Serve, Delicious! is available for PC, Linux, Mac, Android, and iPad. Vertigo Gaming offers a free demo for each platform.
Content warning – Some ableist language.