Restaurant Reviews on the Internet

DiningOUT_header

A friend suggested that I ought to post summaries of our :”DiningOUT” reviews on restaurant “user review” web sites that people follow (who might not be reading what’s published in GayLife!)   I was motivated to follow up on this after a recent poor experience that we had at Indigma.  

I started my adventure with “Metromix” (http://baltimore.metromix.com) which has been advertising a lot on the Baltimore Sun’s web site. I looked up Indigma and found it had no user reviews but had been assigned 5 “stars” (by the site’s editors?) with a two sentence review: “Indigma takes a small plate approach to Indian cuisine, but you won’t leave hungry. The dishes are filling and tasty and the service is warm and attentive”. (By contrast, our experience was 180 degrees at odds with this.)   “Metromix” invited me to submit a user review – I signed up, gave a summary of our experience, ranked it two “stars” (our service and food there were dubious BUT Indigma IS beautiful…).    “Metromix” has never posted my comments but, curiously, they reduced Indigma from five to three “stars” after I submitted my reviews. (Why reduce the rating but not post why? How many other user reviews have been squelched?)    On a whim, I searched “Metromix” for “Saffron”, which had preceded Indigma at this location, and up came a listing of Indian restaurants (including Indigma) but no indication that Saffron had existed or closed.    I stumbled on an entry for Banjara on “Metromix” (an Indian restaurant in Federal Hill but which had close about 18 months ago).    I submitted a note explaining that Banjara was out of business and – amazingly, my entry was posted quickly.    (Since then, they’ve dropped the entry for Banjara.all together)   I checked out what “Metromix” had to say about another Indian restaurant that I like a lot, Mughal Garden.    I found it rated with four “stars” and read several positive user reviews.    I submitted remarks that I felt that Mughal Garden had improved radically since new owners and a new chef arrived in the mid 2008.   My remarks were posted right away.    I explored the “Metromix” site and I found some negative comments – so there isn’t an unstated policy of refusing to publish negative user feedback. I also found cases where restaurants without “user reviews” were assigned the top rating of five “stars”.    Vague, brief comments with no reviewer name posted left me uneasily feeling that “Metromix” might provide a default “five star” rating to un-reviewed restaurants.

I explored “CitySearch” (http://Baltimore.citysearch.com) and signed up and submitted comments on Indigma and what I wrote was posted within minutes.    I searched for “Saffron” and found a review but no indication that “Saffron” had closed (or been replaced by Indigma!)   I found a Banjara entry but there was a user review from 2008/April saying that indicating it had shut down.   I checked entries for Mughal Garden and found it rated with four “stars” (and found recent “user reviews” which backed up the rating).

I find that the Sun’s restaurant online blog, “dining@large” is worth following.   The fact that it includes un-edited user reactions to Elizabeth Large’s entries – both pro and con – inspires some confidence.    (It’s too bad that people who only read the print versions of the Sun miss out on these exchanges!)    I do feel dubious though about Sun user feedback. The Sun editors did some radical editing of a “letter to the editor”  I submitted awhile ago and it was so edited that it lost the sense of what I wrote.    Hmmm! Is the feedback I read online what was actually written by the people who gave the feedback?

Any online restaurant info needs to be taken in with eyes wide open.    How reliable are the reviews or feedback that we read?    Who are these people?    Do the owners or friends write good things to drum up business?    Do competitors want to inspire doubts?   Are there reviews or feedback that never get posted online (if so, why?)     Personally, I tend to place more trust in people that I’ve followed over time where I have a sense of what their likes and biases are (e.g., Sun paper & CityPaper reviewers).   How about you? Do you take all of the restaurant info that you read online as “gospel”?

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