Restaurant Reviewing

by Jan

Remember the saying “I don’t know much about art, but I know what I like”? It seems that the same holds for restaurant reviewing, but with a twist: “I don’t know much about food, so I will show you a photo. Oh, and troll around in other websites !”

There has been some media commentary about bloggers in particular, offering all sorts of opinions about restaurants where they have eaten.

Restaurant reviewing is like a consumer service similar to Choice magazine. However Choice tests products rigorously, whereas restaurant reviewers rely on their personal preferences and tastes, which are highly subjective. And the level of food knowledge varies greatly, eg. I remember brunching with someone who complained that the toast was too hard. Well, it was sourdough and it was toasted. Hello?

Unfortunately, this sort of ignorance is now published, so that these people can display their level of knowledge for the whole world to see. These public comments are hurting perfectly good restaurants, because other uninformed people read these comments and believe them. Bad for business and often unjustified.

A news story was published about this issue (SMH 24/6/12 Table Service: Social media setting the course of our restaurant choices). There are some blogs and websites where diners can click and rate their performances no matter what their mood, personality disorder, or knowledge of food and cookery. And this data is in the public domain influencing all other self-styled and not so well-informed “reviewers”. They often confuse “I don’t like it” with “It’s no good”.

Whilst censorship or denial of free expression are not desirable, these websites are putting restaurants at a huge disadvantage. This is clearly unfair, and can influence potential diners to the extent that a perfectly acceptable restaurant is forced to close. Such is the power of some of the ignorant trolls, and those readers who believe them.

Let’s hope serious reviewing publications will maintain enough integrity, so that reasonable and better informed reviewers and diners’ reviews will prevail.

A friend and I recently went to a restaurant which serves excellent food, but was clearly understaffed, because the floor staff  were running around like headless clichés. Either the owner was too mean to pay another wage, or a waiter did not show up for work due to illness.

By 7pm the restaurant was full and our waiter was efficient in my opinion, but in my friend’s opinion she was rude.  I used to work in the hospitality industry so I have a different perspective. It’s all about perceptions. It was obvious that the restaurateur should have hired an extra waiter. They would have been aware that it was going to be another busy Saturday night. And it keeps the trolls off the websites.

Just because a diner who can’t cook, but can use social media and a camera, do they deserve to be taken seriously?

I think not. I would rather take notice of an experienced chef, who has had years of experience. Would you take seriously the word of a journalist who wrote about economics, but did not have a degree, or working experience in the discipline? Or a plumber, or car mechanic?

Knowledge about writing advertising copy, photography and IT skills should not be confused with knowledge of cookery and restaurant service. And chefs need to exercise their right of reply.