Like To Review Restaurants Online? Read This.
Picture this. You have a job. For example’s sake, let’s say that you are a teacher. You went to university to study for this profession. You then had to work for many years as a teacher’s assistant to further your experience, before finally being able to be in control of your classes or even run a school as principal. You’re good at your job and you enjoy it, and you are paid by parents for the good service that you provide for their children. Now picture this, you, as a teacher, go to the dentist for a clean. The procedure is a little uncomfortable and, while you’ve had many teeth cleanings in your life, this one is different and the dentist makes use of unusual techniques and machines. You don’t say anything about the procedure, because, well, you’re not a dentist. You don’t necessarily understand the difference in machines and techniques. At the end, you walk out with clean teeth, and are, overall, rather satisfied with your teeth, but your gums are a little sensitive from the new machine that was used. All in all, you came in looking for clean teeth and you left with clean teeth.
Now, picture this. There is an online forum, where you are able to review and critique your dentist’s performance. This site is not official and is not endorsed by anyone in the medical profession, it’s simply a way for people to share their experiences of their medical practitioners. You log on, you write that your teeth cleaning was ‘fine’, but you also mention the slightly odd and unusual practices that your dentist used to clean your teeth. It ends up taking around 30 – 40 minutes of your time. You are then further engaged when other users leave comments on your post, enquiring about the practices and machines. Before long, a patient, whom you don’t know, declares that they too had the foreign cleaning methods used on their teeth and that it was a terrible experience.
‘Painful and didn’t do the job!’ they write, before launching into a long-winded explanation of how they believe teeth should be cleaned. This whole process has now taken over an hour of your time and continues to take up more time as you delve further into people’s comments. “The receptionist was so rude when I went – avoid at all costs!” says one patient. “Oh no, that is NOT the way to clean teeth!” says another.
All of these differing opinions set off by your seemingly harmless post. Seems rather weird, doesn’t it? Let’s just remember that you weren’t actually dissatisfied with your cleaning. You simply remarked it as ‘odd’. This is a hypothetical situation, wherein you know nothing about dentistry, but you offer up your unsolicited opinion to a forum of others who also have no dentistry experience either. Users spend hours commenting, pretty much whatever they like, without concern or genuine ‘policing’ and all for no remuneration, or apparent gains. Would you, reader, involve yourself in something like that? No? We didn’t think so.
Now, replace the word ‘dentist’ with ‘restaurant’. And replace the word ‘patient’ with ‘diner’. But, wait, that doesn’t seem so odd? This online forum is simply somewhere for diners give their opinions, what’s so bad about that?
Well, here’s the thing. In an age where we have Masterchef, Top Chef, Chopped, Chef’s Table, Mind of a Chef (you see where I’m going with this…), we are, more than ever before, exposed to what goes on behind the scenes in the culinary industry. And this is great news! Chefs are finally being heralded for the hard work, blood, sweat and tears that go into their careers. But, what it’s also created is a diner who believes they know more than they actually do. Throw in the speed of social media, plus an online user who feels safe behind their computer screen, and before you know it, you have a forum where people who know very little about an industry are naming and shaming establishments for every little thing that they see fit. Basically, vigilante justice that runs rampant, unchecked.
Let’s not forget that we’re still talking about people who voluntarily spend a large portion of their time leaving unsolicited restaurant reviews. And this is time spent that these reviewers are not paid for. What is the real problem with this? To be honest, it’s that more often than not, the restaurants in the firing line are small businesses, and when you’re addressing an online group (some amass numbers into the hundreds of thousands), a certain percentage of them can be put off by an unfair or inaccurate review without even having visited the establishment themselves. Members of these groups trust the words of people they’ve never met.
Restaurant reviews are not a new concept, they’ve been around for nearly as long as restaurants themselves. And restaurant owners and chefs have never been afraid to voice their dissatisfaction with restaurant critics’ reviews. But, where a professional restaurant critic differs from an online forum is that someone (be it a magazine or newspaper) asked for that critic’s opinion. And, for the most part, these critics are well-versed in the language of food. They’ve often worked in the industry for years, have culinary training or have just honed their food skills throughout their careers. They are not the layman, someone who woke up one day, ate a hamburger and then proceeded to slate it online or in print. Fact is, these people who write reviews are professionals, they know what they’re talking about. They would be like a dentist, or maybe a medical journalist, going to another dentist in our original scenario. It’s probably also worth mentioning that the restaurants we’re talking about here are slightly higher-end, we’re not discussing chains or large commercial restaurants that you might find in a mall or an airport. If you’re the type of person who reviews these establishments, then you seriously need to find something better to do with your time.
See, here’s the thing, we’re not saying that bad reviews shouldn’t be allowed from people other than food critics. What we’re saying is that there seems to be a notion these days that because you eat food, and have access to some form of online forum, that you’re welcome to say whatever you want about a restaurant experience. Before we go any further, let’s make one thing abundantly clear: you are entitled to have an opinion, you are entitled to express that opinion any way you choose; what you are not entitled to, is being an asshole.
Why should you bother being nice? Didn’t the restaurant lay the first blow by offering up a bad meal that you then had to pay for? Well, the thing about food is that it’s pretty subjective. What you may think is delicious, may be revolting to someone else. And, a lot of the time, chefs are serving up something that they think is pretty great. They’re often serving their hearts on a plate. Would you say something so rude if it were your friend who served you the dish? And would you say it to their face? A lot of ‘online reviewers’ are only too happy to complain endlessly about a meal they’ve had but when asked if they brought it up with management in the moment, a large percentage seem to go pretty quiet, pretty quickly.
So, how can we all avoid being assholes? Well, as a team of food writers, whose profession includes restaurant reviewing, there are a few simple ways to express yourself without coming off as a dick.
Number one: Do you understand the restaurant’s concept?
Is there something particular about the way this restaurant does certain things? Would this mean they serve food in a way that slightly different to what you’re used to? Do you get the concept? If you don’t get it, then chances are you’re not going to enjoy your evening.
Number two: Did the kitchen make fundamental mistakes or simply do something that doesn’t appeal to you?
Example: Did they serve steak with an unusual sauce; a combination that you haven’t tried before and it doesn’t quite tickle your fancy? Did they serve a steak that was not cooked to your request (rare, medium-rare, etc)? Or, was the food rotten or did you see rats in the kitchen? Do you see the difference? The choice of an unusual sauce pairing isn’t really something you should complain about, partly because someone, be it the chef or owner, approved the dish. They like it and they stand behind it. The steak not being cooked properly is a fundamental mistake, something that you can most definitely complain about. Same with rotten food and vermin in the kitchen, these are things that you are certainly within your rights to complain about. You’re entitled to your opinion, but is it fair to slate the restaurant based on a personal flavour dislike?
Number three: Did you follow the appropriate and fair channels of complaint?
Did you tell the waiter there was a problem with your food? Did you speak to the manager? Did you give the restaurant a chance to defend themselves, as well as attempt to improve your experience? If you didn’t speak up in the moment, then your criticism is a little unfair.
Number four: Were you in a good mood when you dined at the restaurant?
Seriously, answer this question for yourself. You’d be surprised at how many patrons take their moods out on restaurants. Similarly, was there something else that annoyed you, like the service, for example? While bad service is absolutely inexcusable, sometimes it can impact your overall judgement and cause you to unfairly critique the food.
Number five: How would you feel if someone treated you that way in your place of work?
Would you go up to your dentist and tell them that they don’t know what they’re doing? How would you feel if a random person came up to you and told you that you don’t know how to do the job that you’ve committed your life to?
Number six: Do you really, like really really, know what you’re talking about?
Are you the type of diner who only eats steak cooked rare? Well, there are many cuts of meat that need to be cooked to medium rare or even medium, because of factors such as marbling and sinew. If you order something like a rib eye rare, it can sometimes be chewy and tough to get through. That chewiness isn’t the chef’s fault though, as you chose that ‘doneness’. Or, if the chef insists that you eat the steak at a certain temperature, because they know what a difference it makes to it, and you just dismiss it because it’s not the way you want it cooked? Giving them a negative review based on that is a little unfair. Can you confidently say that you understand the dish you’re being served more than the chef who sent it out?
Number seven: Do you understand the consequences that your review might have for a restaurant?
Do you realise that this is someone’s business and that your review may tarnish their reputation permanently? Did your food or dining experience warrant you publically dragging someone’s name through the mud? You are fully entitled to your opinion, but are you addressing it fairly?
Number eight: Was the food actually inedible, or just not what you expected?
Did you order a burger hoping that it was going to be a good, honest burger or were you expecting it to blow you away with smoke, tricks and magic? Sometimes, food doesn’t need to sing and dance for it to be deemed good. High-quality ingredients often don’t need a lot of fiddling with. If you ordered a classic cheeseburger and are annoyed that it was just that, albeit perfectly cooked, then maybe you’re eating at the wrong establishments. Because you expected something different is it fair to bash someone’s business? See point number one, ask yourself, do you really get this restaurant’s concept?
Number nine: What is your end goal with this review?
Honestly, what do you really hope to achieve with the review? Do you want to stop every single person from ever eating there? Do you want to be reimbursed for your meal? Do you want a free meal? What is that you truly hope for by writing this review? If your review is based on missing fundamentals and you want the restaurant to know that they aren’t cooking certain things properly, then you should absolutely let them know this. But then again, you need to see all the points above and make sure that you know exactly what you’re talking about and you need to make an effort to talk to the establishment in the moment.
Number ten: Would you put in the same amount of effort if the meal was good?
More often than not, bad news spreads faster than good. So, if you feel warranted to write a negative review, do you then make sure that you put in the same effort to write a good one? People are so quick to write reviews about negative experiences but seldom write any good ones. Don’t be a troll. Be fair, and make sure that for every bad review you write, you write a good one for every positive experience.
So, the next time you have a less than impressive meal, ask yourself these questions. If you answer no to any of them then it may be necessary to put a hold on the naming and shaming. Just think how you would feel if someone wrote something like that about you. As we’ve said before, you’re full entitled to review your experience, but it is definitely worth taking the time to consider all the above factors. The world is aggressive enough, so let’s try to treat everyone with a little respect.
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