The best form of marketing for a restaurant is “word-of-mouth”, and restaurants, like other arts such as cinema and theatre, get reviewed regularly, by people telling other people about good experiences or otherwise, that they have had. But who can you really rely upon to give you a consistent, unbiased and accurate assessment? Who can you trust?
By Jeremy Ryland
Where is the best restaurant in the world? Which is the best restaurant in Australia? Where can I get a great steak/paella/pork dumpling? It all depends on who you ask – and whether you believe them … whether you trust them. In practice, we all have different perceptions, different likes and dislikes.
These days, everyone is a critic and there are many sources of food and dining reviews. In “Confessions of a Reviewer” (31 January 2019) I suggested that restaurant reviews, and those who write them, fall into the following categories:
Journalistic: reviews by journalists in newspapers and magazines that are largely designed for a specific market.
Professional: reviews by groups such as Michelin and Gault&Millau, where the reviewers are food professionals who are trained, dine anonymously and pay for the meals in full.
User-generated: reviews provided by restaurant guests on online sites, such as TripAdvisor, Quandoo, Zomato and The Fork.
And then there are the bloggers and influencers: reviews by amateurs, some of whom are knowledgeable and very talented, who write to their followers on their own online blogs, as well as providing short reviews on social media.
However, there is also a group of bloggers and influencers who solicit for free meals. Recently, in Brisbane, a blogger asked a small restaurant to provide three free meals in return for a positive review. The restaurant politely refused, due to the high cost, and the impact that would have on turnover given their limited seating capacity. Allegedly, in return, the blogger wrote a negative review, even though they had not actually visited the restaurant and, moreover, it was reported they got some colleagues, none of whom had visited the restaurant either, to also post negative comments. This kind of negative publicity could well put this restaurant out of business, and the restaurant is powerless while having done nothing wrong. It is not in the interests of restaurateurs, restaurant critics or the genuine bloggers to accept this type of behaviour. It should be reported and removed.
So, if you are a restaurant goer who is looking for information on where to go for dinner, who do you believe?? Who can you trust?
If you know and trust the journalist’s views in a newspaper, the reviews can be reliable. But, bear in mind that they may have been asked by the publisher to do the review and sometimes their personal preferences, prose and entertainment take over.
Professional reviews are based on a standard score card and are reliable as they are consistent. The professional restaurant reviewer is usually qualified – a chef, a sommelier, a food scientist. To understand how well a dish is made, one must know how to make it.
Do you trust the social media bloggers? Bloggers have a major part to play in our modern information systems. If you are to believe what they write and say, they need to be impartial, consistent and honest. While some are talented and knowledgeable, some provide very little information and are just after a free meal and cannot be relied upon.
What about the customers on TripAdvisor? The reviews on these sites are true guest experiences, however, are subjective and can be biased by the writer’s mood, preferences and dislikes.
In reality, the only reliable reviews are the professional ones from groups such as Michelin and Gault&Millau, whose reviewers are anonymous and pay for each and every meal. And also perhaps, your closest friends with whom you dine and trust.
Trust is a significant human emotion. Trust is something we do not give easily. Trust is earned. Trust requires safety, security, integrity and positive emotion. Who can you trust?
You can trust Gault&Millau.