Monday, December 3, 2012

Reviewing Restaurants Online

Most people review a possible new restaurant, and usually, even if a friend recommended it. The value of the review is high to the end users. Restaurant ratings and viewing the menus go along way toward making your dining out experience a good one. Becoming a contributor to the review process will help you sharpen your critical review skills. In addition, that will help others.

 The big raters like Zigat may do ok in a city such as San Francisco or New York but you will find that their reviews only cover major and most high-end restaurants hence these are soulfully inadequate. More likely, their reviews may not be up-to-date.

Here is a Zigat review for a steakhouse:
Loyalists “love the sizzling platters” of “oh-so-good buttery steaks” at this “top-quality” chophouse chain that comes through with “winning” sides too; delivering “old-style service” in a “traditional” setting, it’s “expensive” (and “not for the dieter”), but “utterly reliable”, especially when you’re “entertaining friends and clients.”
This site had only one member review but it was a good one:
“Situated on the first floor of an office building, the long, rectangular room reminds you of a steno pool from the '50's. Food quality is pretty much like all the other <name of chain> establishments. The wait staff, sullen and dour, gives the impression that they once worked upstairs. The menu is a no brainer: Veal Osso Buco Ravioli, Steak House Salad, the Rib Eye (Cowboy version), Potatoes Au Gratin, and Asparagus. Now you can die happily.”

People driven sites like Yelp and trip advisor cover many more sites, and are usually fairly current but the reviewers criteria varies with the people that write them. Some reviewer’s information is unspecific “the food was awful and service lousy.”
Without additional information, it is not possible to ascertain how the restaurant was deficient. I saw a review of the now out of business Striped Bass that was a sophisticated very expensive five-star restaurant in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania that I considered one of the finest dinning experiences of my life. (The chef at that time was Chef Christopher Lee now the Executive Chef and owner of Huntington Social in Huntington, New York.) Portions were, in fact small, as most dinners have seven or more courses.

Here is the woman’s review that gave the restaurant a single star:
“Shitty service and irrational food.  My boyfriend and I went here for my 21st birthday.  Our server was a very cold woman with aesthetically unappetizing fake nails.  We ordered the raw plate, which was terrible. and miniscule.  Both of our entrees were oddly paired, my sea bass came with a green chick pea puree that looked like baby food and did not blend well with the taste of the white fish.  The waitress had registered that we were not happy with the raw plate or my entree and asked me if I wanted another entree.  After I declined, I figured she would take it off of our bill (which did not happen).  She did bring a dessert  with Happy 21st Birthday but it was really too little or too late.”

One often sees a review like this when a person lands themselves in the type of establishment that is beyond their culinary experience and sophistication. That is why they would have done well to research online first. When writing a review, give the reasons for each of your comments, being specific as possible. Try to cover what other reviewers did not.
Here is an example review that has little value:
“Mexican food with a lot of flavor. Great presentation with a lot of colors and appeal. Within its class its on the top of my list.”
The member has only written this one review so it has no basis for credibility.

Another reviewer with a better review and 674 reviews to her credit, provides useful information the same restaurant as follows:
“I'm not a native of Greensboro, so I don't know what the competition is like here -- what I do know is that Camino Real (CR) is one of the highest rated restaurants in all of Greensboro and we decided to stop by for some Mexican food on our epic Atlanta-DC car ride.”

“In short, Camino Real is absolutely fine, not brilliant, not amazing, but absolutely fine (it has a slight hint of fast food taste!). The menu is overwhelmingly expansive (and also overwhelmingly cheap-- dollar tacos?! Really?!) - you really can get anything here - we started with guacamole (probably the highlight of the meal, though the slightly stale chips were underwhelming) and then I had one of the dinner specials (see the menu's back page) - a chicken burrito served with rice, beans, and pico de gallo.  The burrito was fine though the chicken stuffing was a bit too dry, and the beans were, well, really, really salty (points for good pico de gallo though).  The service is attentive and friendly; the decor is non-existent.  It's clear, though, that CR is beloved - we went on a Monday evening and it was absolutely packed- so if you're a native Greensboro-ian, it might be worth adding it to your list.”

The Menu

Reading the restaurant‘s menu tells a lot. What are the expected items that are quintessential defining dishes for this type of restaurant? For a Mexican restaurant to be an authentic place, it should include Sunday specials that include some of these: pozole, sopa de Maricos, menudo, guacamole, fish tacos, carne asada, carnitas, and enchiladas. Look for dishes that are favorites of yours. The word fajita is not known to have appeared in print until 1971 so  fajita is more likely from an American or Tex-Mex restaurant.
Maybe authentic is not your thing. If the Olive Garden is a favorite Italian spot for you then go there. Do NOT expect real Italian food to be like an American chain restaurant; you will only disappoint your self. A restaurant claiming to be “family style” usually means the have low prices and large portion. This usually means they sacrifice quality for quantity as higher quality means the food costs more to produce.


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