Take Internet Restaurant Reviews With a Grain of Salt
I think the world would be a vastly better place if everyone simply had a forum to vent their frustrations. There would likely be less hostility at least, I really believe that. You can’t imagine how cathartic it is for me to write about things that annoy me. Most of the time, nobody reads my ranting, except poor Carol of course. But somehow, just expressing them seems to take the edge off for me. It never occurred to me to use this website as an outlet for my expressions, though…until today.
Earlier this year, I did a Kindred Spirits feature on a wine we had at Paparazzi. When we created this website, that’s what we envisioned for Kindred Spirits; a blog, if you will, about experiences we’ve had with wine, beer and other libations. In that particular article, I pushed the envelope a bit because I really wanted to give e-kudos to Paparazzi, a place we’ve consistently enjoyed over a period of ten years. This website and the wine we had that night allowed me to do that.
We also decided early on that we would not do reviews of any kind on this site...no restaurant reviews, no B&B reviews…only “features”. I’ll admit there’s only a subtle difference but it’s a key one in my view. When you do a “feature”, you can accentuate the positive and in fact, if you find too many negatives about a place, you can simply not do the story at all. If you’re doing a true “review”, the reader deserves the whole story. So if we put a feature on this site that even remotely reads like a “review”, you can be sure that it’s a special place and that certain criteria have been met. More on that later.
Sometime after I did the Paparazzi feature, I learned about Urbanspoon, the foodie website that provides a single source for restaurant info for a number of cities, including Peoria. Urbanspoon really is a great site and I highly recommend using it to check out menus, pricing, directions, you name it. Anyway, they have a section for “blogs” and I was encouraged to link our Paparazzi feature to that section of Urbanspoon. Carol had done a “Destinations” feature on Her Majesty’s Tea Room in Dunlap so we felt that would be an appropriate “blog” candidate as well. So we put those on there and didn’t think too much about it after that.
As I was accessing Urbanspoon to do those links, I noticed that a main feature of their site is user reviews. The few I read really piqued my interest and over the next few weeks, I ended up spending a lot of time reading reviews of many of the restaurants that we’ve frequented over the years and I was fascinated by the diversity of opinions. It got me to thinking about website “reviews” and it occurred to me that there are a couple fundamental problems with them and strongly reinforced our position to avoid doing them on Good Life Destinations.
The first issue is competence. I suspect that most “reviewers” feel they are qualified to share an opinion. I mean, it would be pretty hypocritical for me to say anything about that since that’s what this entire site is based upon. But there’s the difference between reviews and features again. It’s so much more palatable (no pun intended) to accept someone’s praise than it is their criticism. It’s human nature. I don’t imagine anyone has such a negative view of a restaurant, that if they read a positive review, they would be upset about it. The opposite’s not true. There are people who love local restaurants who take great umbrage when reading negative things about them. I’m not saying the “reviewer” shouldn’t be honest and “review” as he or she sees fit. But it does make one wonder when one reads the review, what qualifies the writer to be negative. I don’t think we question “positive” but we do have an issue with “negative.” Again, human nature.
Also, when it’s clear that this is the first and only time the reviewer has been to the place, accepting negative criticism becomes more difficult, I think. The primary thing that motivated me to write about Paparazzi was the consistency of quality over a period of ten years. As I wrote, I think that kind of long-term performance is remarkable. If I wrote something positive or negative after only one visit to a place, surely that would be less credible, right? But that’s the nature of Internet restaurant reviews. Anyone can write them at any time.
So, where does that leave us then? Well, you can be sure our position on “reviews” remains the same. As for the reader, you must decide how much credence you want to give to “user reviews” as you read them on Urbanspoon and other websites. I suppose you can guess how much I give them. Fortunately, doing only features on this site allows us to behave in a way that was drilled into my head as a child by my mother; “If you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all.” Still a pretty good credo, Mom.
If you'd like to read some of the Urbanspoon reviews, here's the link to their site: www.urbanspoon.com