After living in Chapel Hill for almost three years, I finally had the chance to have dinner at the famous Top of the Hill restaurant on Franklin Street for my friend’s 21st birthday. I was excited, as I’ve had years of built-up expectations of people telling me how great of an experience it was. The food, the atmosphere, the location and the service was supposed to be stellar, the pinnacle of one’s time at Chapel Hill. I especially thought so after I saw the long lines to get tickets to eat there for the National Championship game.
Though I had a great time with my friends, however, I was a bit disappointed in my experience. The servers were nice enough and it was cool to be seated on “top of the hill” (though we were indoors), but I actually found the food fairly pricey and the menu very limited.
Then, when the food arrived, it was good, but it definitely did not live up to my expectations. I felt a bit disappointed and surprised as I ate what I thought was only slightly better than average appetizer, when I had expected a delicious meal. Of course, it’s definitely possible that my expectations were unrealistic as a result of waiting so long to experience TOPO, but even so it was a bit anticlimactic.
The atmosphere of the restaurant also seemed a bit too posh for my taste. I’m sure there are people who like this experience – and on rare occasions I do too – but it felt a little unsettling in that moment.
Of course, I don’t know exactly how much others actually enjoy TOPO for the food and atmosphere and how much they do just because it’s part of the quintessential Chapel Hill experience. But, I’d say that a key insight gleaned from my experience is that TOPO’s popularity might be much more due to the social and cultural benefit than the actual food and menu offerings; that people might choose to have dinner there not for its array of unique food and decent prices but for the “bucket list” experience.
With this in mind, I would suggest that TOPO modify its promotional material to advertise its place as a UNC staple and steer away from advertising its (sparse) food offerings and prices that are a bit too high for most college students’ budgets. It might also be good for it to expand its menu options.
The Top of the Hill is without a doubt an important part of UNC’s culture, but in my opinion its appeal is a bit overstated. I enjoyed my experience there and would go again for a special occasion, but it did not meet my (perhaps too high?) expectations.