On September 12, Sylvia Rector, the restaurant critic of US newspaper Detroit Free Press's website Freep.com, explained what to look for in online restaurant reviews to weed out potentially bad dining experiences and avoid passing up great places.
The key is to study the reviewer and the content - here are five tips adapted from Rector:
- Keep in mind that first-time reviewers may have a motive.
- Look at the reviewers' profiles, note if they prefer fine-dining or local chains to get perspective on price, quality, service comments.
- New restaurants with all rave/poor reviews should make you think twice (could be written by relatives, or competitors).
- Skip over reviews that don't have specifics
- always look for when the review was posted, restaurants can change quickly from good to bad or bad to good.
There are a host of crowd-sourced dining sites (Zagat, Yelp, OpenTable, Insider Pages, Urbanspoon, Citysearch, TimeOut) with which you can test Rector's advice.
Another thing you might want to avoid is only reading one review; it is worth checking out what professional food critics are also saying about new restaurants.
On September 1, the blog Eater spotted a major problem with a negative review posted on Yelp since the restaurant had not yet opened. See it: http://eater.com/archives/2010/09/01/graham-elliots-grahamwich-gets-negative-yelp-review.php
Celebrity chef Graham Elliot Bowles had this to say about Yelp and the negative review his unopened restaurant received: "...it would be a crying shame to pass on such an awesome opportunity to highlight the ridiculousness that is Yelp. The fact that someone has the ability to openly critique a business that has yet to open, leads me to question the legitimacy of the reviews involving businesses that are in actual operation."