To Review or Not Review?Posted by Mark Busse on Sunday, January 18th, 2009
Tags for this Article: opinion, restaurant, review
This is a post with two minds. On one hand, I enjoy seeking out and trying new restaurants and often use online searches to find reviews of new restaurants. And, being rather opinionated and verbose, I enjoy occasionally writing about my experiences in a review, even if I didn’t enjoy it much. But there are so many well-written restaurant reviews online, many of which I disagree with and often find myself adopting an opinion and avoiding a place based on the writing of others. That seems sort of dumb.
So what to do? There’s so much good food to experience and it can’t hurt to add some fodder to the mix, right? Well, that depends I guess. Sharing news of a new spot with a unique offering is terrific, though gushing over every little detail about a restaurant, its story, chef, service, interior or presentation seems pointless if the food sucks. Of course reviews that are overly critical seems unfair and not particularly helpful for the reader, who may in fact disagree with the assessment. See what I mean about two minds?
Writing a positive review is easy frankly. If the location is good, interior design is conducive to creating a comfortable dining environment, food is fresh and prepared in a unique fashion and the service and prices are pleasing, it’s easy to rave about the experience. Writing a balanced negative review can be the real challenge. Perhaps the food really failed to meet your expectations or your customer service experience was sub par. I often find myself as interested in the room and the way I feel in the space as I do about the food and presentation. And of course there’s the issue of perceived value—an expensive meal that let you down really stings.
This site doesn’t have an excess of restaurant reviews. In fact, there are only a rare few restaurant reviews here to date—intentionally so. There are already so many food blogs with numerous reviews in existence. Can we add much? Perhaps. Perhaps not. One of our contributors, Karen Hamilton, has written some great reviews on her site Tiny Bites, many of which are featured on Urban Spoon. Yet another of our writers, Jer Thorp, resists the urge to write about restaurants as a general rule, explaining that he feels there are already far too many ill-informed opinions littering blogs based on one experience at a restaurant, often in early days after its opening and feels this is unfair.
Restaurant reviews should be written by experts. Another issue Jer feels is key to a good review is an informed opinion. Useful food reviews are written by food experts, often former chefs or trained professionals with experience in the restaurant business. Essentially opinions that matter. Just because we adore good food, perhaps even having some training ourselves, doesn’t mean we have the right to blast a restaurant because they served your soup cold. Uh, it’s called gazpacho genius.
Bad reviews can sink a restaurant before they find their wind. Lastly, in these days of online searches to guide our every decision, consider the impact of harshly criticizing a restaurant based on one bad experience? What if your blog or post becomes the number one hit online, which is actually fairly likely if it’s a new restaurant and you were one of the first to write about it. Your personal need to sound pithy and clever, describing how terrible a restaurant was may very well impact the decision by many to avoid the establishment, hurting them as they work out the bugs in their new business.
To review or not review? Were I asked to give some advice to someone excited to share their culinary experiences online, I’d say this: Do it! Share with us all you’re discovery so we might be inspired to experience it for ourselves, or not. But be fair. Remember that your personal preferences may vary greatly from many others, so be as objective as possible and stick to the facts. Take notes while the experience is fresh in your mind and avoid sweeping opinions, reserving judgment until you’ve been there at least twice. Remember that your words may have a lasting impact on the business you many not realize. And be prepared to try it again and change your mind. If they improve the issues you’ve been ranting about, perhaps it’s time to revise or amend your post, or even take it down altogether. Perhaps a restaurant you once loved has fallen from grace? Write about that too.
Question for readers: Do you value restaurant reviews? Do you write reviews yourself and have some tips for us to consider?