Overrated Restaurants vs Bad Restaurants
Here's a bit of word play for you, stemming from an discussion on the LA board about the Worst Restaurants in LA. Naturally, some of the usual suspects are brought up, usually chains or old grimy shacks, but every now and then someone responds with a fairly well-heeled establishment.
So I'm here to discuss the notion of a restaurant that's bad vs overrated. I think there's a marked difference between a restaurant that's overrated and a restaurant that's bad. I think Matsuhisa is overrated but it's far from bad. I think Domino's Pizza is bad but no one rates it, let alone overrates it.
Disappointment is a phenomenon that exists on a person-to-person basis, stemming from their own Expectation.
Being a bad restaurant is intrinsic to the restaurant, stemming from a lack of Quality.
And being Overrated is when your Expectation doesn't meet the actual Quality. A restaurant you know nothing about can't be Overrated (no Expectations), nor can a restaurant that doesn't exist (no Quality).
So a question for my fellow 'Hounds is this: does the fact that a restaurant is overrated lead you to calling it bad and vice versa? Or do you view a restaurant in two separate ways?
As I see it overrated is when a restaurant fails to meet your expectations. It's when a restaurant gets rave reviews and is highly recommended. Mainly applies to higher end restaurants. There is nothing necessarily wrong with the restaurant, but expectations are usually higher for them and there is a greater monetary cost of going. A person would probably return to it, but only if they weren't footing the bill. Based on what I've read on the site examples would be: Inn @ Little Washington, Ryland Inn, and The Charleston.
And a bad restaurant is simply one where the quality is lacking and no one expects recommends it. Unlike an overrated restaurant, even if someone else was footing the bill a person still wouldn't return to it.
I think this happens quite often and not necessarily from my own expectations. For example, take Da Silvano in Manhattan. For some reason this place is regarded as one of the neighborhoods finest eateries. What I found it to be was overpriced peasant italian cuisine, in a loud setting, with snotty waiters.
(I make my own pasta too and I do a better job than they did for $40 a plate.)
So I found the place to be overrated but I also found it plain bad because our server had a terrible attitude, the gummy pasta was swimming in oil, they charged $3 for a slice of parm cheese on said pasta, and my salad had rotted, wilted leaves in it. It was also sickeningly expensive and I'm not one who ever complains about the costs of food. I happily fork over big bucks to eat well on a regular basis, but this place was obscene.
So I think certain places can be both.
At first blush, it would seem that overrated and bad are mutually exclusive.
But, I think if one considers it in depth a restaurant can be both overrated and bad.
And neither -- being overrated or bad -- is a sufficient or necessary condition of the other.
For example, lets use a good/bad scale of 1-10, with 1=best and 10=worst.
And now lets take a fictional restaurant called "Merkin".
General consensus is that Merkin is a "bad" restaurant with a score of 7. Merkin is not a good place to eat, but probably not the worst thing out there.
Still, you can go and visit Merkin and have a truly, truly horrid experience and realize that a score of 7 is way overrated. Merkin is more like a 9, or even a 10.
Merkin, then, is both bad and overrated.
I can only think of one Merkin type restaurant that I've come across in my lifetime, but it happens.
They are two seperate issues. A bad restaurant is a bad restaurant, unable to consistantly satisy a client base on any level. An overated restaurant, admittedly subjective, is one where the reputation over promises and, in the eye of the diner, under delivers. That in itself does not necessarily make it a "bad" restaurant...just a dissapointing one. I think of Denny's as being a bad restaurant, haveing never been satisfied by one. I think of New York City's famed Tavern On The Green as being an overrated restaurant, never quite living up to the quality of it's view...but not entirely bad either.
I agree that expectations can negatively impact a restaurant experience. Sometimes unrealistic expectations are created by reviews and hound-like forums. In that regard I think it's very important to be wary of scoop junkies who are over-eager to be the first to report on a restaurant "find." However, some places also create lofty expectations themselves, even if it's a simple as super high pricing or ridiculous reservation policies. I also tend to agree that experience is subjective, but there is no question there is a lot of "bad" food out there maquerading as high-end cuisine. I mean, a dry pork chop is a dry pork chop, no matter what your personal food biases.
"Disappointment is a phenomenon that exists on a person-to-person basis, stemming from their own Expectation." This thread almost seems like it should be on PhilosophyHound rather than ChowHound. But I like it.
Not all expectation is faulty expectation. Some expectations are reasonable, such as those derived from misguided hype and positive reviews. Here in San Diego we have a major problem with overzealous reviews and overpriced restaurants, the latter of which is what bothers me most. If I wanted to capitalize on people's desire to feel sophisticated (at the expense of eating food that actually tastes good), I'd open a restaurant here, because it seems people will eat at and rave about any new restaurant as if it were The French Laundry. Generally speaking this does not include the people reporting on SD restaurants on ChowHound.
But how can you be disappointed in Cheesecake Factory unless your expectations are high? Is it because of its perceived popularity? If so, shouldn't that only affect your Expectation once, since the fact that the restaurant is intrinsically Bad alters how you perceive Cheesecake Factory _in spite_ of the popularity?
And actually, in my case, I had lofty expectations for Matsuhisa here in LA, expecting it to be on the order of Spago or Lucques. It failed to deliver in that regard, but then when I stopped to really think about the various recommendations on the Chowhound board, no one has ever said "OMG you HAVE to go to Matsuhisa!" No one was trumpeting it up, and I think my expectations were raised unfairly. So in true honesty, I probably shouldn't be calling it Overrated. (I'll stop doing so from this point on.)
But then again, Faulty Expectation is still Expectation. You can be disappointed whether it was justified or not.
Again, it's a matter of semantics. It's hard for the believe that Cheesecake Factory is overrated by the simple fact that I've never seen anyone recommend it. If everyone is calling it overrated based on the actual crowd, I would counter by saying "Perhaps they're not 'Hounds"
I agree that it's overrated. The menu and portion sizes are huge and for that reason, people are more able to find 1-2 things they like than they would be able to at other restaurants with more modest menus and portion sizes.
I don't think a restaurant has to be sophisticated to be overrated. At the CF near me, the line is almost always an hour + to get in and for the quality of the food delivered, I think that helps in putting it into the "overrated" category.