Most of us have seen an act in which a juggler spins plates – keeping dozens of dinner plates rotating on top of tall poles. The artists frantically runs from one plate to the next, giving it an extra spin if it looks like it’s about to slow down and crash to the floor. Somehow, the plates never seem to fall, and she never breaks a sweat.

Playing Diner Dash is a lot like that. You take on the role of Flo, an over-stressed office exec who gives up her job to become an over-stressed entrepreneur hoping to build her own chain of restaurants. But instead of just managing the business, you become the sole waitress, racing around seating the patrons, taking their orders, serving the food, presenting the checks, and clearing the tables. Do a great job and you earn enough money to move on to the next level and expand the restaurant, perhaps even opening a second. Leave your customers waiting for too long and they’ll storm out on you, forcing you to redo the level.

The game is a snap to control and easy to learn. It begins in tutorial mode with simpler-than-pie instructions on how you’ll need to meet, greet, and serve an ever-growing flow of diners. You start out with a rather modest four-table establishment and as your income increases, you’re able to spiff up the place, install some amenities, and add more and larger tables. This only intensifies the challenge of keeping your clientele satisfied.

There are two modes of play. For a quick session, Endless Shift has you serving customers until too many become angry and walk out. If you’ve got the time, Career Mode allows you to continuously improve your skills, building ever better restaurants until you master the game. You can save your place in the game at any time, and return to finish your quest when your schedule allows.

Achieving those goals isn’t just about speedy gameplay. There are five different kinds of customers, each with a unique tolerance for shabby service, and it’s important to know who will get ticked off soonest and what keeps them happy — like seating them in the right color seats, pouring them free coffee or tiki drinks, and chatting it up with them as they enter your establishment. Occasionally a restaurant critic will wander in and you’d better give her your full attention if you know what’s good for you; she can award you an extra star if she feels like it. And stars are what keep the game going — you lose one every time you fail to meet the level’s goal. When you run out of stars, the game is over.

There’s a lot of gameplay for your money in Diner Dash … over 40 levels’ worth, but you’ve got to be awfully good to get past the first dozen. By the eighth level, your adrenaline will be pumping as you try one strategy after another in an attempt to nab the required 6,000 goal points. This is the sort of game that appeals to young and old; youngsters will enjoy the speed and the cartoon-like graphics, parents will get a kick out of discovering just the right strategy to keep Flo in business.

Make no mistake though: Diner Dash can be hard. Even seasoned players find some of the levels shockingly difficult, as online chat rooms attest. But this (and a weak music score) are really the game’s only failings; and they’re minor. That’s why it earned this unusual perfect score – it really is a great game.

And for those of you with real waitressing skills, you’ll love the bonus level! Ever wished you had an extra pair of arms? You’ll find out just what it’s like, if you can master the fun and challenging Diner Dash.