Restaurant Empire II is the sequel to Trevor Chan’s Restaurant Empire, which was released in 2003. As the names suggest, both games involve you running an empire of restaurants, which includes fairly standard tycoon activities -- arranging tables and decorations, setting menus and prices, managing your staff, and keeping your customers happy. I didn’t play the original Restaurant Empire, so I can’t tell for sure how different the game engine might be, but Restaurant Empire II includes the Restaurant Empire campaign, and so it feels like I’ve played the original game -- and if my spidey senses are accurate, nothing much has changed, and people who have waited six years for the sequel are going to be disappointed.
Your goal in Restaurant Empire II, just like in the original Restaurant Empire, is to run a series of restaurants. The original game only had American, French, and Italian styles, but Restaurant Empire II adds in German food as well as coffee shops and dessert shops, giving you about twice as many restaurant styles and recipes to deal with. Sort of disappointingly, the new types of restaurants work almost exactly like the old ones. For example, coffee shops include a bar, but it’s just an extension of the kitchen. Customers can’t sit at the bar or interact with it. They still check in with a receptionist to find their seat, and then order the equivalent of a four course meal. Just from watching the game, there isn’t any way to tell the difference between a coffee shop, a dessert shop, and a fancy French restaurant, which is kind of sad.
Managing restaurants in the game has a lot to do with managing minutia. You don’t tell your chefs or servers what to do; they just do their jobs automatically, and you can only watch them. What you do is set up the tables and decorations in the restaurant (giving wide aisles for your staff and customers, since their pathfinding isn’t very good), and then decide on menus, prices, and ingredients. As you play the game, more recipes and higher quality ingredients become available, and so you have to spend most of your time watching your menus to make sure that your selections remain profitable, and that your food matches the standards of your restaurant.
Here’s an example. While you’re running a restaurant, a customer comes in and tells you about (or charges you for) a new ingredient supplier. After learning about the supplier, you have to check each of your recipes to see if they can be improved, and then each time they can, you have to click on the ingredient, click on the supplier, and then click accept. After that, if the new ingredient substantially increases the cost of the recipe, you next have to visit each restaurant where the recipe is being offered, find the recipe in the menu, and then change the price. There isn’t a friendly way to do any of these activities, and things only get worse if you end up with multiple suppliers for the same ingredient (because then there isn’t an easy way to tell if the new supplier gives an upgrade or not). If the game had included ways to set the prices for all of your restaurants in one place, and automatically use the best ingredients, then it would have been far more convenient to play.
Besides managing your restaurants, Restaurant Empire II also comes with some mini-games. At various times in the campaigns your chefs have to appear in baking competitions, and you can play some mini-games to help them out. Oddly, these mini-games have almost nothing to do with food (in one you just click on the numbers from 1 to 6 in order), and they’re not a lot of fun. But in the Restaurant Empire II campaign, one of your chefs also appears on a TV show for a while, and during these times you get to play match-3 games involving the ingredients being used on the show, and these games are much more fun. Really, I thought the match-3 games were the highlight of my Restaurant Empire II experience, which probably isn’t what the developers were aiming for.
Also new in Restaurant Empire II is the idea of a stage performance. You can add in bands or singers or dancers to a special stage in a restaurant, and then the performances increase the restaurant’s environment rating. This addition is atmospheric, but it isn’t practical. The stage takes a lot of space, the performers cost a lot of money, and the effect on your environment isn’t huge, or even necessary, since you’re never required to run a five-star restaurant. There are a couple of scenarios where you’re required to use stage performances, but outside of those, I avoided them like the plague.
I wasn’t thrilled with Restaurant Empire II, but I didn’t hate it, either. There is a lot of content to the game, with 34 scenarios to play, six types of restaurants to run, and hundreds upon hundreds of recipes to learn, but the game leans more towards quantity than quality, and I prefer the leaning to go the other way. Also, if you’ve already played the original Restaurant Empire, then there isn’t a whole lot new to see or do, and the game might only be fun if you haven’t booted it up in six years. But if you’re new to the franchise, then you can easily drop 100 hours into the game, even without the sandbox mode, and that makes Restaurant Empire II a pretty good deal at $20.