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LocalEats® Guide For The Discerning Diner

LocalEats® Guide For The Discerning Diner: How To Navigate Online User Reviews

The following guide was created to assist you, the discerning diner, in navigating the quagmire of user-submitted restaurant reviews. These user reviews can be found within many restaurant- and travel-related websites and smartphone apps. They range from helpful, well thought out evaluations of service, cuisine and ambiance to petty complaints — the host was flirting with the bartender! — or misguided rants on subjective topics, such as the merits of ranch dressing on pizza, or if creative sushi rolls should be considered sushi at all.

The first step for any discerning diner intent on perusing user reviews of restaurants is to understand the six types of user reviews.

Type 1: The “I Did Not Actually Eat Here, But … ” Review

  • A Real-Life Example: “Note: food was not considered in writing this review since the only thing I ordered was a glass of diet coke. … ”
  •  Know it when you see it: These types of reviews often come with full disclosure from the reviewer, making them easy to spot (see above). Other times, the reviewer will not be so forthright, so be on the lookout for vague descriptions of the way the food “looked” or lengthy assessments of the restaurant’s all-you-can-drink happy hour.
  • What to do: You may appreciate that the reviewer took the time to write a full-length review of a restaurant despite having never tasted a morsel of food from the establishment. We sincerely doubt it. Feel free to take the reviewer’s word on the parts of the dining experience that he or she did actually “experience,” — in the example above, the ingestion of the Diet Coke — but otherwise move along.

Type 2: The “I Don’t Eat Out Very Often, But It’d Be A Tragedy To Deprive The World Of My Insight” Review

  • A Real-Life Example: “The atmosphere was nice. … The food was normal restaurant style food.”
  • Know it when you see it: Reviews of this sort will tend towards the ambiguous and non-specific. Extreme cases may involve excessive use of emoticons and/or incorrect use of punctuation.
  • What to do: These types of reviews typically leave the discerning diner perplexed and still unenlightened. Don’t try to read between the lines — just move on.

Type 3: The “I Prefer Chain Restaurants” Review

  • A Real-Life Example: “As a frequent traveler to Europe and having lived in Italy I can state with authority that the food at this restaurant is right on the money. Authentic dishes, food that melts in your mouth, and desserts like no other -- Olive Garden is an outstanding place to enjoy one of life's pleasures.”
  • Know it when you see it: Look for shameless praise heaped upon restaurants that can be found inside your local Target®, any mall dining court, and every airport in the U.S. Watch for keywords such as: dollar menu, venti, super size, and any food item preceded by “XTREME!”
  • What to do: Go eat a Big Mac (Yes, we love them too). You don’t need a dining guide to help you.

Type 4: The “Does Not Compute” Review

  • A Real-Life Example: “The ambiance was quite lacking and yet incoherent. I would return again.”
  • Know it when you see it: Your brow furrows and the back of your head gets tingly.
  • What to do: Take a deep breath. Organize your sock drawer to make sense of the world. Move on.

Type 5: The “I’m Anal Retentive and That Makes Me An Expert” Review

  • A Real-Life Example: “Despite the busboys being quick to clear, the lemon was never replaced for my water. I was wearing black pants, but they never offered a dark napkin. I had to ask for salt & pepper and it was obvious the dish hadn't been washed but just refilled as a 1/2" of pepper residue rested on the inside upper edge.”
  • Know it when you see it: The user is irritated by a series of insignificant details that would go unnoticed by the well-adjusted diner. Complaints such as “It took the server way too long to separate checks for my party of 30,” or “They forgot to bring out our third basket of bread” are usually good predictors of this type of review.
  • What to do: If you happen to agree with the reviewer’s sentiments, consider making some changes in your attitudes on life.

Type 6: The “Anything That Other People Enjoy That Costs Money Is Overrated” Review

  • A Real-Life Example: “I'm sorry, but OVERRATED. … It was very good, don't get me wrong. … It was definitely very good but it was --le sigh-- just a plain burger. I felt a little sad and not completely full after a burger, fries, a diet coke and a chocolate milk shake. I eat a lot. I have to admit, 2 stars may be a little unfair. It wasn't so much that it was actively bad - but, well, "meh. I've experienced better" fits my sentiments so perfectly.”
  • Know it when you see it: Look for the term “overrated.” It’s an overused and frankly overrated term used by reviewers describing any restaurant where the food is the least bit expensive and has received any amount of critical acclaim.
  • What to do: Reviews like this are generally a sign that you should run, not walk, to the restaurant being reviewed. It’s probably fantastic, if you can leave your too-cool-for-school attitude at the door.

So, don't change your dinner plans just because an anonymous user complains, "Avoid this place—they only refilled my iced tea twice!" Given the limitations inherent in today’s user-generated sites, discerning diners will do well to manage their expectations when trying to find quality non-chain restaurants. You'll need to set aside ample time to wade through the increasingly self-serving and ever-growing number of mind-numbing reviews available to you, the poor foodie who just wants some guidance in your quest for good food.

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