In order for a restaurant to do well, it takes more than simply good food. In fact, a much-cited study from Ohio State University estimated almost 60 per cent of all restaurants fail in their first year. Many of these eateries fall victim to a common killer – a bad review.
The emergence of the food critic has been traced back to the nineteenth century Paris and it has taken a life of its own since. Nowadays, including in New Zealand, a food critic is a full-time job, with potential customers using these restaurant reviews to determine their next night out.
Take, for example, the much revered Metro Eats, with it’s famed Top 50 Restaurant Awards and restaurant reviews. According to the publication, every restaurant is visited twice and rated for what it is, be it a bistro or a fine dining experience.
However, what makes their review more than simply one diner’s perspective and opinion? Are Viva and Metro’s food reviewers professional chefs? More often than not, they are diners like us who just happen to have a platform to voice their personal opinion.
This could be why the same restaurants and cafes are continually cropping up on Metro’s list and why some are continually forgotten, despite the excellent food and impeccable service. Unless restaurants cater to the tastes of Simon Wilson and his team, they are unlikely to receive their “five spoons”.
These days, every diner is a reviewer, both figuratively and literally. From the simple action of posting a meal on Instagram to the prevalence of online review sites such as Yelp, Zomato, and TripAdvisor.
We all go through the same process before dining at a restaurant. Trawling through pages of five and four-star reviews, “delicious food”, “impeccable service” “absolutely amazing dining experience” and then you find it, on page 24, the one-star review that urges all readers to avoid the restaurant at all costs.
Even top restaurants such as The French Cafe do not have a five-star rating and even has 19 reviews claiming the restaurant was terrible or poor.
As social media continues to grow, these review sites are becoming a key way to gain – or lose – customers. The only way to ensure a positive online reputation is flawless food and an infallible customer experience. Of course, this is near to impossible and still may result in a hostile customer leaving an unfair review.
While the idea of an online reviews seems simple at its core, (provide good service, a good meal and receive a quality rating) it doesn’t always translate into practice. A recent Fair Go expose revealed the ease of purchasing fraudulent reviews.
Their non-existent restaurant (in fact, a public toilet), The Out House , quickly rose in the ranks of Auckland’s top eateries through bought reviews.
While TripAdvisor claims it has the ability “to manage content and to identify, block, and remove fraud”, it’s near to impossible to oversee every single review of the estimated 320 million on its site.
The plethora of information available has put an immense amount of power in the hands of food review sites and food critics. Ultimately, it is diners who are losing out.
More and more, New Zealanders need to use their own opinion and taste rather than take restaurant reviews at face value. A one-star dining experience for Simon Wilson or Viva’s Jesse Mulligan could mean something entirely different for you.
Before using Metro or TripAdvisor’s top restaurants as your go-to, venture a little further. Survey a variety of menus, consider the style of the cuisine and type of restaurant that suits your own personal tastes and preferences. Instead of reviews, utilise restaurant guides that provide a menu and simple description as a way of informing, rather than judging.
You never know, you could surprise yourself, and become a regular at a restaurant that perhaps missed the mark for the crowd and the critics, but suits your tastes perfectly.