Whether you trust the reviews on Yelp is immaterial.  It’s another social website where food mongers like me write reviews of places we’ve been and share them with thousands of people we will never meet.  Whether it’s Yelp, Chowhound, CitySearch, or Zagats, it’s really where people try to measure a potential dining place to see if it’s going to be money well spent.  Unless you’re working for a food reviewer or news publication, there aren’t too many rules people really live by.  Other than having actually dined at the restaurant, you write what you please and do it with a flair that suits your personality.

But over time being on Yelp, I’ve come to realize that there is a social responsibility, however minuscule it might be, that one must bring to writing food reviews.  This applies more for people like myself, who do not work for any publication, then true professional food critics because we have no “code” to write by.  It’s pretty much thought vomit.  No guts, no glory, no filter.  But  when I read food reviews to see if restaurants are worth the time and money to go, I tend to read reviews from people who are reasonable and responsible.  I often see people giving 1 or 2 stars [out of 5] because they felt they got the shaft because the restaurant charged them $30 for 4 scallops.  Indeed, that is criminal, but when I’m reading the review for a high end restaurants like Mastro’s, Le Bernardin, or Bouchon, I think we have the obligation to tell it like it is.  For example, I’m not giving Bouchon 1 star for giving me steak and fries for $28.  Yes, the steak and fries for that price might be criminal, but to give it a 1 star rating is even more criminal because the quality of the meat, the almost perfect execution of the dish, and the whole dining experience.  While to many, the dish may not warrant $28, it is a great dining experience and the food is damn good.  Unless it is outright and blatantly wrong and egregious, I don’t take the price of the food into account too often, if at all.  To me, it really depends on the restaurant.  If Red Lobster is charging me $30 for scallops, I’m not ordering it.  Because to order any dish at Red Lobster for $30 and then turn around and give them 1 star for that is telling me and the rest of the internet world that I’m just not that bright to begin with.  I would hope that we would have realistic expectations for our meals on the places we dine at, but having one rigid standard and applying that across the board  would be irresponsible.  Not only to others who read the review, but to the restaurants where we dine at.

I probably take this hobby a little too seriously.  I often think about the whole experience first, the decor, the service, and most importantly, the food.  Does it fit the expectation the restaurant is wanting to achieve?  I mean, let’s be real.  Red Lobster is not marketing itself to the same clientele as Le Bernardin.  So as amateur reviewers, we ought to take that into account.  You can’t compare these two restaurants in the same breath.  It wouldn’t be fair to Red Lobster and it sure as hell wouldn’t be fair to Le Bernardin.  I don’t mind paying $45-$50 for sea bass at Le Bernardin, but I sure as hell wouldn’t pay the same at Red Lobster, not that they would even have sea bass.  I think we need to know what it is that we’re writing because whether we know it or not, people do read them, and people do make their decisions based on what we write as a community.  Our weight is not the same for an LA Times or NY Times food critic, and nor should it be, but I think we still need to be responsible in writing the reviews.  And now that I’m going into the second year of being an Elite Yelper, I think about this more.  I’m not giving a place 1 or 2 stars because I am reacting to the fact that the server didn’t bend over backwards for me.  Just like I wouldn’t give 5 stars to a place that has mediocre food and the service was awesome.  At the end of the day, it’s still about the food – first and foremost.  Not all restaurants are created the same, and that’s a great thing.  We need the hole-in-the-walls as much as we need Le Bernardin.  There’s enough white space to go around in the food industry.  But we shouldn’t expect the same from each and every single restaurant.  That’s just not realistic.  I can’t wait for a food truck to get its first Michelin Star.  I can’t wait for the Michelin Guide to return to Los Angeles.  I can’t wait to read reviews from Yelp, Chowhound, and Zagats. It’s all part of an experience of being a novice foodie.

 

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