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Chowhound Restaurant Reports: Critiques or P.R.?

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Howdy, all!

A recent discussion on the L.A. board (http://beta.chowhound.com/topics/show... ) has got me thinking and I am curious as to the thoughts of fellow Chowhounds.

In essence, I am wondering what the responsibilities of a CHer are in reporting back about a restaurant experience. On several occasions, I have heard that we should be "building up" restaurants (especially new ones) and, perhaps, glossing over negatives because, as one person put it, we could cause a restaurant to fold and deprive someone of their livelihood.

I think that is an interesting perspective, but not one that I share. I run a food blog on Phoenix metro restaurants. At the current time, I would say that my reports are 50% positive, 30% neutral, and 20% negative. When I post a negative review, I inevitably get one or two emails stating that I should be "building up" the restaurants and that my criticism should have been muted.

My standard response is that if they want to pay me for public relations, then we can have a discussion. Otherwise, I do not believe that it is my place to do anything but convey the details of an experience I had at a restaurant that wants me to spend part of my paycheck in its establishement. If the service of a cafe was awful and the meat overcooked and the coffee sitting way too long, do I ignore those because people may decide to go to another restaurant based on my review, thus pulling away dollars from an eatery and "depriving someone of their livelihood"?

I understand the sentiment, but I am not sure that withholding facts about a miserable dining experience does anyone any good.

Your thoughts?

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  1. I agree with you. I feel one is being negligible by not reporting a bad experience. People who read your posts can look up your history and see if you made other comments about places that they have been to and compare notes to see if you're both on the same wave length (does this make sense?).

    1. I come to this website for opinions on restaurants that are (1) unbiased and (2) up-to-date.

      Chowhound should never be the place for any kind of PR. People who are being paid for PR shouldn't be posting there. That's shilling.

      I come here for fair and factual reports, rather than ones that gloss over negatives. There's a finite number of meals that one can eat out; we either go to a great restaurant or a poor restaurant. So it's important to indicate which the poor ones are so that people would pick the great ones over the poor ones; it's indirectly ensuring that the deserving places are not deprived of their livelihood. I'll say it again: it's super important to mention negative restaurants. We'd be depriving the great places if we do otherwise.

      The quality of a restaurant can vary over time, especially staff and menus turn over. A single post about a single meal, while informative, is never definitive. It would be a mistake to decide on the quality of the restaurant once and for all based on a single meal or from a single thread. At the end of the day, regardless what what is posted here and elsewhere or in the papers, nothing beats trying it for yourself and deciding for yourself.

      To be honest, I doubt that any single post or poster makes much of a difference for a restaurant in the long run.

      If it's a new place, I believe hounds are savvy enough to take that into account that not everything will be perfect. In a related note, there's a thought that brand new place should not be reported on until they're "ready." Well, the only way to know if they're ready is from reading reports (or better, trying it for oneself). I like to hit a new spot right at that point when it's good but still not swamped after a good review. I come to these boards for information to estimate when that time will be; that only works if folks post on both good and bad experiences.

      2 Replies
      1. re: limster

        ITA witht his post. I don't decide to go or not to go to a restaurant based just on ONE chowhound review or ONE blog post. I do my homework, go to the actual restuarant website and then decide. If the restaurant falls flat then I blame myself and then choose MYSELF to go back or not....

        Further, most hounds or bloggers I don't consider restaurant critics. Restaurant critics go multiple times to a place before making their review (Most posts are about one meal) and their meals aren't comped (I'm sorry, but if you are blogger and are getting a free meal based on a potential blog, THEN you are doing PR... That's part of the way marketing works... I know, I make my living on it...) so the idea that one bad blog or chowhound post can DESTROY a restaurant is silly...

        --Dommy!

        1. re: Dommy

          Exactly!

      2. "... On several occasions, I have heard that we should be 'building up' restaurants (especially new ones) ..."

        In posts to the LA board? Seriously?

        Such posts are off-topic and should be reported. People aren't allowed to tell others what to post.

        2 Replies
        1. re: Robert Lauriston

          Yeah, the NY boards never (that I have seen) chastise a poster to 'build up' reports. I guess we are too mean. Occasionally, you see a 'cut them some slack since it's just the first week and they will work out the kinks' but more often we will jump on anyone who sounds too complimentary or shill-like. Nothing worse than a shill.

          1. re: Robert Lauriston

            .... otherwise they will be shot. zere is no exception mitt dis policy.

            grin

          2. I hate to say it, but when it comes to the mom and pop places that aren't getting a lot of attention either on chowhound or in the media, I tend to post about positive experiences and be silent about negative experiences, unless someone else asks about or mentions that restaurant, then I feel an obligation to my fellow chowhounds to pop into a thread and tell about my one negative experience.

            If I've had a good experience, by the time I get around to posting about it, I've often returned and eaten there multiple times and can feel more confident that the restaurant is consistently good and I feel I can speak more knowledgably about more of the dishes.

            I seldom go back to a restaurant where I've had a negative experience, even one, because life is too short to eat bad chow. There are so many good places to eat why choose to eat somewhere where you weren't pleased? This does leave doubt in my mind-- maybe I was just there on a bad day-- so I typically won't start a brand new thread just to say negative things about a little mom and pop place I've only been to once. It just doesn't seem entirely fair. If I'm going to say negative things about a mom and pop place, I feel more of an obligation than usual to be certain of my facts and provide specifics. I get annoyed by chowhounds who say negative things (or positive things, for that matter) about a restaurant that they don't back up with any specifics. If you ate somewhere and didn't like it, I want to know what you ordered and what was wrong with it. Was it too salty? Too greasy? Not balanced? Not fresh? Unimaginitive? Did you go at dinner time and insisted on ordering breakfast? I want more information. I don't like vague "I had bad luck there" or "The food wasn't very good" kinds of comments about a restaurant. They just aren't that helpful to me.

            When it comes to bigger, more established restaurants, particularly those that get a lot of press, I am more generous with my thoughts, both positive and negative. I don't feel the same need to worry about being "fair" because my experience is just one data point among many.

            So, yes, if you look at my posts over time, you'd probably find that I had more positive things to say about small family-owned restaurants (because I kept a few of my one-experience negative thoughts to myself) and more negative things to say about big, established restaurants.

            I do think that "buzz," including what the discussion we generate on chowhound, can affect a restaurant and I feel an obligation to be as fair as I can be about a restaurant while still providing honest feedback to my fellow chowhounds. But, it's a tough balance for me.

            ~TDQ

            1 Reply
            1. re: The Dairy Queen

              TDQ, you rock.

              I try to be as thoughtful and sensitive as you are. I don't succeed, but I try.

            2. I try to remember that my visit is only one. I try to put the things I say in a forgiving way since I do like to assume the best. More than one episode of the same problem I will usually chime pipe up. I am only interested in seeing that people try the great food/finds. I do not really care to remember much less report the less than stellar events.

              1. i came upon this post as i was about to start a new one triggered by this CH post:

                "I don't think I have a "frequent" tendency -- I may have done it one other time. Maybe I'm sensitive because if I say a publicist paid for my meal, it gets removed, whereas other people who don't mention that their meal was comped have their posts remain. Yes, everyone is different, but I think posters should be discouraged from quoting from press kits and encouraged to put their impressions in their own words. Or maybe the poster just writes like that normally ...I suppose it's possible."

                i'm shocked.

                MODERATORS, are there conflict of interest guidelines for those who are comped meals by the restaurant or publicists associated with the restaurants. or for investors (minority or majority). or for family or friends, etc.?

                1 Reply
                1. re: revets2

                  Posters are not permitted to post opinions about any restaurant with which they have anything other than a normal customer relationship. Friends, investors, family, etc, are all expected to respectfully bow out of the discussion of the restaurants they're involved with.

                  If you suspect another poster has such a relationship with the restaurant, please use "report this post" to let us know. Thanks.