When it comes to dining out, is being "lovely" enough to draw customers to the table? Judge for yourself in Lovely Kitchen, a diner-themed time management game that has you serving lovely salami sandwiches to an assortment of not-so-lovely customers. Déjà vu, anyone?

Since childhood, Mary always dreamed about becoming a famous cook and making tasty dishes in her own restaurant. She learned a little about cooking from her Mom, and then headed out to a culinary school to polish her trade. Once she graduated, the next step in her plan was to buy her own restaurant. That’s when you come in. Can you help Mary to achieve her dream?

You can choose between casual and simulation mode. Simulation mode is the harder of the two, recommend for experienced players. In this mode, you need to cook dishes using the required ingredients. The "cookbook" contains the items you need for each recipe. Casual mode is simpler, and recommended for new players. In casual mode, you just need to click the desired dish in the cookbook, and the cook will make it for you.

Customers come in, and must be seated and served. Like the myriad of other diner themed time management games out there, you need to bring them a menu, and make sure they get the right food items in a timely manner. Customers come in with green smiley faces, but these will slowly turn unhappy and yellow. If a customer is kept waiting too long, he’ll leave. In a new twist, Mary will run instead of walk if an unhappy customer is waiting for an order.

Cooking tasks involve collecting various items in the kitchen, and putting them in the microwave. The "cookbook" is in the top corner of the screen. Click on a food item to see the ingredients needed to make it. You can aim for the standard or expert score, and can replay levels as you go along.

In addition to meeting the money goal, you must have the right number of happy customers in order to advance. Satisfied customers pay, but they don’t leave in the best mood. This makes it tougher to win. For example, on level 1-5 the goal was $3,000, and I earned above that at $3,300…but I lost the level because I didn’t have enough happy customers! Bummer. Things just got worse as I went along, and eventually it became too tough to continue. Making money was easy, but without ways to boost customer happiness, I couldn’t continually make the happiness goal. 

The cutscene artwork is interesting. It looks a bit like watercolor paint, which is kind of unusual, but attractive enough. The graphics are around average. The music…well, it’s energetic, but a bit repetitive. You won’t want to listen to it for more than an hour.

While the cooking component is cute, one can’t help but get a sense of déjà vu when playing, as restaurant themed time management games have literally been served up in every possible way. The game also has a few quirks that hamper the experience. There doesn’t seem to be any chaining bonus, although you do earn tips for serving customers quickly. There are a few instances of awkward English, too. Nothing big, mind you, but they do exist.

As for the game play, the cooking component makes things more hectic, but it’s also a lot more fun than playing in casual mode. However, playing in "simulation" expert mode makes it difficult to advance from early on in the game. There’s no way to toggle between modes if you find yourself in too deep. In terms of visuals, you can play the game in windowed mode, but this actually cuts off parts of the screen, so I wouldn’t recommend it.

Lovely Kitchen is challenging, but it lacks the ability to stand out from the crowd. With very high standards being set by games like the latest Diner Dash, Cooking Dash, Delicious – Emily’s Taste of Fame, and so many others, the production values of Lovely Kitchen also appear outdated. If you enjoy diner themed games, you might like the difficulty in simulation mode, but otherwise you might find the game play too simple and familiar. 

For similar games, try Delicious – Emily’s Taste of Fame, Miriel the Magic Merchant, Cooking Dash, and Diner Dash: Hometown Hero.