Recently, I spent a bit of down time reading through the countless reviews for Melbourne restaurants on urbanspoon. There are presently 7,666 pages of them. I think I got up to page 46 (only three days worth!) before my eyes gave up and I needed to go for a walk.
When I got back to my computer, I did some rough calculations and discovered that an alarming (approximate) 25% of diners rated their experience as ‘Doesn’t like it’. Granted some reviews consisted of nothing more than “Don’t go, it’s shit”, but then there were others that went to the trouble of writing a review the equivalent of War & Peace, let alone going to the effort to set up an account to review a venue.
That’s 1 in 4 people critiquing poor service and food that does not meet expectation; waiters that are too friendly, not friendly enough, getting stuff out in a reasonable time, missing things, incompetent staff, ‘bitchy vibes’ from staff, forgetting things, too much avocado, salt in bowls on the table being unhygienic, then having to use the said salt because the risotto was bland, mind-blowingly pretentious, meat that you’d give to your dog and so on.
In this day and age, where our biggest rating TV shows are My Kitchen Rules and Masterchef, we obsess over all things food related. Are our expectations becoming too inflated and bordering on unreasonable? Do people simply enjoy being acerbic? Are we too gun-toting and trigger-happy to fire up the urbanspoon app the minute someone looks at us the wrong way, if the beer is flat or the butter’s too cold? Or is it a case of the industry needing to lift its game to meet ever-growing expectation?
Knowledge is power. We’ve dug ourselves a big fat hole in our keen intent to know what came from where and when and what it ate and how it lived and how it died and how it got to the kitchen, let alone how it was cooked.
Ten years ago, ordering a coffee was as simple as… ordering for a coffee. Now? Well after you select the origin of bean, the monkey’s arse it came out of, how it’s been roasted, whether you want siphon, cold drip, espresso, the type of sugar… I just want a good coffee! As for your steak, it can now trace its bloodline back through the 1860’s on ancestory.com. Probably.
We are spending more on food; the groceries we buy and dining out. In September 2012, CommSec released figures that showed average household spending is growing at a long-term average of 4 per cent and in particular, households had lifted their spending on cafes, restaurants and takeaway foods by $8.78 a week, largely driven by people eating and drinking out more often as opposed to increasing prices.
Households are now spending, on average, $107 a week on dining out. That’s on top of the $200 a week average spent on household groceries.
So, we know more and we are spending more money on dining out, which means we’re trying new places all of the time. Naturally, the next step with all of the whizz-bang technology available to us is to tell everyone about it via social media. Annnd duh! I’m writing reviews! But I’d like to think that the effort that goes into my reviews – at least 6-8 hours to produce a 1,000 word post – provides a result that is more balanced, detailed and hopefully influences someone to try somewhere they’ve never been before. Granted not all of the places I’ve been to, after summing up the food, service, value and overall experience, I have liked, but I’m not writing reviews to give people the heads up on where not to go. If that was the case, why would we want to go out at all if 1 in 4 places are shithouse?
The internet is free speech (for now) and sites like urbanspoon have seemed to survive the challenge of one review, mobile reviewers (which I must admit are some the more entertaining reading), such as:
Hate the food and the customer service is so shocking no one there looks happy and the place look really dirty there is no room to eat with out bumping into the people next to us or with out here there life story nd the music is always the same nd never seams to change don’t like it when people have to reach over us to give us the food and to take our plates Im never going back there if things don’t change and the deal things is such a rip off or should I say a joke.
The sibling of a well-known place opened up nearby recently and it was shocking to see the unceremonious panning it copped by its patrons, with comments going as far to describe it had no soul. I heard nothing but James Brown being played in there the other day, but whatever. Another reviewer was most articulate:
The place itself feels cold; too clean, too new…too something
Too ‘something’? Mmmrrright. I can hardly wait for the diner’s review on an overheated, old, rat-infested joint.
Lastly, my all-time favourite was:
Hipster Joint doesn’t belong in Fitzroy North
Well if you want to get all picky, it’s actually in Carlton North. As for hipsters not belonging in Fitzroy North, have you not been to Edinburgh Gardens on a warm Sunday afternoon? I can feel my hair follicles getting quiff envy and Movember ending on 1 December meant nothing in North Fitzroy, let me tell you.
Sorry, I digressed.
I guess we need to accept the facts; we go out more, we spend more, we share more information far more quickly and to more people than we may realise. We are more discerning due to our influences, environment and ability to access knowledge, even through some of us (still) aren’t any smarter as a result.
For the punters using urbanspoon to seek out a place to eat, I’d suggest taking any diner reviews where they have only recently signed up, one-off reviewers and / or mobile reviews with a tiny grain of salt. Use bloggers reviews; they are hopefully doing it for their love and passion of food and of course, there are always the bona-fide professional food critic reviews.
For the rest of us ‘critics’; if your eggs aren’t poached right – tell the cafe. If your steak is well done and you ordered medium rare – tell the restaurant. If your beer is flat – tell the pub. Unfortunate things can and will happen in most places, even the good ones. It’s a numbers game. Any half-decent chef, wait staff, manager or owner will and should do their best to rectify the situation. And if you do feel compelled to write about it, try and be objective, check your spelling, grammar and perhaps do it the next day.
I’m no expert and I have never claimed to be. Although I’d prefer you spend your $107 on something good, new and different. And if it’s a place I can recommend to you, then that’s even better. Although here’s a list of places you should avoid at all costs: