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What is your personal Chowhound Policy for dealing with bad restaurants?

I’ve recently decided the best action is no action. Better these places should die in anonymity than be given any publicity at all. The only exceptions would be if someone specifically stated they were considering going to a particular bad restaurant or CH Worst lists.

In the past I would have considered constructive criticism to be just that. Constructive. Something that would tell the owner here’s what you can work on. Recently, though, there has been an abundance of posts about a local poseur restaurant with food ranging from mediocre to bad. No one has a kind word to say, but boy they devote a lot of inches to saying it. It seems it only serves to fill this unworthy resto with patrons.

How do you deal with bad restaurants?

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  1. Guess it depends how you define "bad"...
    If it is a mediocre place, let it wallow in it's mediocrity. Ignore it so it can die.
    If it is a place with real potential if it changed something, or had some fault that could be easily fixed (ie, great meal, bad service), put it out there. I'd like to know if a place had great food but the atmosphere of a bus station.
    Really bad, I'd like to know. Why waste money/time/digestive health?

    1 Reply
    1. re: BeeZee

      Just to say what a fabulous answer this was. Perfect :)
      Happy eating :), Oana

    2. What's the saying? Tell a couple people when you've had a good experience, tell 1000 when you've had a bad one? And actually there's been many proven studies made that people trust more negative reports, than positive ones. So, whereas it may look like they are getting too much ink for being mediocre, the negative waves are rippling in the thousands.

      My sense is that these trendy places know exactly what they are and are in it for more of a cash grab, or cash hide, as it were. They usually don't survive.

      Personally, I consider myself burned, and just don't go there again. Unless it's truly bad. And then I find a manager and complain. Not really to get anything specific out of it (although you usually do), but more so to get it off my chest. It's healthy to get things off your chest.

      1. I review them as I encounter them - the good, the bad and otherwise.

        As I often have experiences that counter another reviewer’s (CH, or otherwise) experiences, I leave it up to the person accessing the reviews to read and decide. I attempt to be as objective, as I can, and describe everything in detail. Heck, sometimes my “horrible dining experience,” might not seem so bad to another.

        If the experience was adequately bad, I write a letter to the GM, Food & Beverage, whatever, and let them know with as much detail and as little emotion, as I can muster.

        Hunt

        1. Good or bad or in between, if I feel the need to share it's generally through my blog. I generally don't post about a particular place here unless the subject comes up in another thread as my region is a slow one and I got tired of writing reviews that gathered no response (or so it seemed).

          2 Replies
          1. re: Janet from Richmond

            Janet,

            As one who reads the South board, whether we're traveling there or not, I wonder why you do not review restaurants there.

            Now, I am not doing a blog, and CH is my main outlet, but I am curious. Please do not get me wrong on this. I just want to share with other "hounds," what I have experienced, good, bad, or otherwise.

            Just curious,

            Hunt

            1. re: Bill Hunt

              I used to post about them all the time and when I started my blog, I sort of gave up on it, but I should get back to it.

          2. For new places, I tend to wait a few months before making any judgments or posting on CH. I want to give them some time to work out the kinks.

            For a well established and well regarding place, if I had an off night, I might post to ask if there have been any changes with the restaurant. I want to know if it was just an off night or is the place going downhill.

            If someone specifically asks about a place, I'll share my experiences good or bad, new or established restaurant.

            One instance where I felt the restaurant was horribly inappropriate and where the manager was given an opportunity to correct the situation or at the very least apologize and did neither, I did come to CH to tell all of my bad experience.

            1. If a restaurant is new to jfood and he does not see them on the boards he tries not to invoke any negative karma by trashing. he keeps his trap shut and goes elsewhere for food.

              If there is a discussion on the boards then he tries to add his experience, understanding that the restaurant may have an off night or the chef was not there that night. But he will always speak with someone at the restaurant before any bad press on the boards, jfood feels he owes them a chance to both hear what might have happened as well as give an explanation.

              There are also times when jfood will change the number of people or add something (like editing American Idol) so that the restaurant is not able to out-jfood and place something in his open table file in case he wants to return for a better time.

              And as Hunt stated you get a feel for who you trust and take some of the others with a grain of salt.

              7 Replies
              1. re: jfood

                I probably should exercise your restaraint. However, I post it, like I see it. Most are good reviews, with maybe a few gigs, that I feel are deserved. Still, when a restaurant does not deliver, I try to state that, as well.

                Personally, I'd love for every dining experience, from this point on, to be excellent. I hate panning a spot, though I feel that some deserve it.

                In the end, you are probably a better person, than I am. Now, I have held my tongue, when things were stacked against a restaurant. Commander's Palace, just post-K was an example. I ate there, and everything was a problem. I refused to do that review, even though they had let me down big-time, not that long before. Still, there was too much turmoil in the area, and I could not justify doing that review, even though some others did make the review slate and were very good, under the same circumstances. Maybe I was trying to be the good person, that Jfood is... just could not wirte that one.

                I do see your point,

                Hunt

                1. re: jfood

                  jfood, I don't know much about open table, were you joking (I hope) or can restaurants really put something in your open table file? I had an outrageous experience last spring and I posted about it on chowhound. I was surprised and charmed by the support I got from my fellow chowhounds. The restaurant is still open but they have changed names. I understand about the whole bad karma thing. Another thing to consider is that if you are really unhappy and have tried to talk it over with the manager and things still haven't been worked out, you might want to consider paying cash it you feel a post coming on. :)

                  1. re: givemecarbs

                    jfood's understanding is that there are "two" open table data bases. The one you access to reserve a table and then the one at the restaurant.

                    The first has just you booking data and sho-no show data.

                    But the restauranty specific file has room for personal data, likes, dislikes, allergies, etc.

                    Remember OT is an "operating" system but when jfood asked that question a few months ago he was told on these boards that the personal restaurant data can not be uploaded to the OT reservations data-base.

                    1. re: jfood

                      Thanks jfood! I'm paranoid so I'm sticking to the good old fashioned telephone for my reservations! He he!

                      1. re: givemecarbs

                        If you call to make a reservation with a restaurant that uses open table, you will be entered into the system. It's like making an appointment with someone who has a palm pilot. Whether you go through open table online or call and talk to a person or send a handwritten card, the restaurant will use open table to keep track of your reservation. When you call again, they will type in your name and your previous visit will show up, so if they have written down info like your likes and dislikes or allergies, it will be there no matter the method you use to make the reservation.

                  2. re: jfood

                    jfood, I like your direct, speak with staff, approach a great deal. It seems typical of you to be as fair and kind as possible. I have to ask, though, have any of these discussions gotten out of hand? I'm not shy, but I do detest scenes.

                    1. re: Googs

                      Never a scene, jfood would pull a Snagglepuss if he felt anything other than listening and discussing.

                      The goal posts are "who care" to "thank you please come back as a comp."

                  3. I write-up my eating experiences as I find them. I do that for fun more than anything else - as a personal record, if you like. Sometimes I post to local or wider boards (Chowhound rarely these days) - but most of the time I just send them off to one of the guides here (and one of them has used a quote in its 2009 edition).

                    4 Replies
                    1. re: Harters

                      Though I post to CH mostly, nowadays, I follow your lines pretty closely.

                      Because there is more to a dining experience, than a multiple-choice query, I do not often post to many travel/dining boards. I've even ceased posting to some Usenet groups, because CH allows many more boards, under one roof.

                      Not casting aspersions on some other Internet boards, but I have yet to find any that I like as well as CH.

                      Hunt

                      1. re: Bill Hunt

                        Bill

                        It's more to do with where I live (north west England) than anything about the "style" of CH. The UK board is not bad for London but pretty useless for the rest of the country (another well known international board has far better coverage even from lower posting numbers). Usually, I post on CH when I visit the capital as a tourist, but that's about it (apart from these topical boards, of course).

                        John

                        1. re: Harters

                          As I ply the UK/Scottland board, prior to a couple of trips per year, I agree with you. As we are always "starting and ending" in Mayfair, that board does help me greatly. Still, out of curiosity, or when we have business elsewhere in the UK, there is almost nothing.

                          If you do not mind, I'd greatly appreciate a link to the other board, if for no other reason that to improve my choices in London. My e-mail is in my profile.

                          Thanks,

                          Hunt

                    2. If new I agree, I wait a few months till they get the kinks worked out. Also, go back more than once to make sure it just wasn't a one time problem. All restaurants have that.

                      I try to just leave those I dislike alone and not say anything. No reason putting them down, they will probably fail anyways.

                      1. I have 3 rules when it comes to opining/reviewing a new restaurant:

                        1. never before the doors have been open atleast 30days.
                        2. min. of 2 trips, perferably 3.
                        3. never, ever, refrain from the truth.....no matter if it makes me look bad(ie. liking and waxing poeticly about the Burger at a certain drecky, chain bar), or the restaurant. What good is your positive opinion if you are unwilling to voice your negative one? its like being the Paula Abdul of food...."you're wonderful, everyone is soooo wonderful!". useless and actually hurtful.

                        7 Replies
                        1. re: nkeane

                          The Paula Abdul of Food. Now THAT's funny. And point taken.

                          1. re: nkeane

                            #2 works well for restaurants in one's immediate area. However, when traveling, one usually does not have the luxury of dining at each spot 2-3x. It just will not happen.

                            Now, can one form an opinion with one visit? I think so. Will that opinion hold for the long haul? Who knows? Can you have hit them on that one bad night that month? Absolutely. Can you have hit them on that one good night that month? Certainly, and consider yourself lucky.

                            Now, on the boards that I post to, I have had major disagreements on some restaurants. It is not that either of us was trying to sway the "applause meter" one way, or the other. It was often that I hit good, or bad, and the other reivewer was 180º out of phase with my visit. Several of these have gotten me back in (for the poor reviews), and the second, or third time usually matches my first impressions. Now, there are two popular restaurants in markets away from my home, that did poorly by me. I reviewed them, as I encountered them. After many years (and changes in staff), I returned to each. One became a favorite of ours, until very recently. The other impressed the heck out of me, and is very high on my list. Things change in time, along with the staff and the focus of the restaurant. Often, it's for the better, though sometimes it's not.

                            I do agree with #'s 1 and #2, though I have dined/reviewed newly opened spots, as I happened to be there. Then, I always preface my review with the info. Same thing when we dined around NOLA and the MS Gulf Coast, after Katrina. Things were very different, and I have to admit that I graded very "easy" [SIC]. I also pointed this out in every review. I still find that I am giving some latitude down there, but am toughening up my stance. Still, I report what I encounter and attempt to paint a 100% accurate picture, through my personal perceptions. That, however, is what a review is. The moment that one goes from just stating the menus, they introduce their personal perspective - likes and dislikes.

                            I am also with you on reporting the personal observations on a meal, regardless of where one finds it. I've had some surprisingly good (to me, at least) meals at "chains." These have usually been because THAT particular location excelled. Had a wonderful steak dinner at a Golden Corral in Dodge City, KS. Over the ensuing years, I have gone to other locations, and have been horribly disappointed, but had I written a review of that location, it would have been glowing. The truth must come out.

                            Hunt

                            1. re: nkeane

                              Rules 1 and 2 can be very important for a one-person setup, such as traditional food critics. But on a board like chowhound, where an important strength lies in crowd-sourcing, those rules are less useful.

                              re 1. - one of the most useful things about chowhound is that information is shared in real time - so that we can way ahead of the curve. One of the most important pieces of information for a newly opened restaurant is the time when it transitions from opening blues to where it's firing on all cylinders. Traditional reviews can't provide that information because the information is only offered on one time point, but real time information from boards like these can, because many people can eat there over many days to figure out when the place has gotten good. The idea is to have continual assessment, so that all information is fresh.

                              2. On CH, many many people share information on many many trips. It's ok if you provide information about your one dish on one trip, because others will also provide their information as well. Hundreds of people posting about their one or two bites translates to a very robust sample.

                              1. re: limster

                                Limster, while I can see your reasoning I have to differ on #1. I observed as a very talented chef reopened after 18 months of searching for a new location. He had a little rust on him. I then read in horror as people passed judgment within the first few days of opening. The poor man hadn't even been open a week. They managed to capture in writing the first 3-4 days. These opinions will live on through eternity on this board besmirching the reputation of this resto that only needed about 3 weeks to get it together. The consistency of quality is evident now.

                                Real time reviews are interesting, but they're not necessarily fair to the business owner nor accurate for the reader.

                                1. re: Googs

                                  By real time, I do mean that the chef is assessed not only on days 3-4 but also on days 5,6,7,....year 10..... And having that all in one place e.g. a thread on chowhound. It's not about one snapshot which can result in the skewed opinion as you indicate, but a continual assessment. The restaurant will only be as good as the last meal it cooked.

                                2. re: limster

                                  the 1month rule is not about a place being rusty. its about my lack of enthusiasm for paying to be beta tested on. It has the bonus of giving a place time to hit their stride and leaves them without excuse. In reality, a month is not that long to wait.

                                  1. re: nkeane

                                    The point being that some places will take 3 months, others a couple of weeks, before they get into shape. How to know if they're ready if one doesn't try?

                                    The incentive to finding a place ready ahead of the usual assumptions is that one gets to enjoy delicious stuff in a restaurant that is less crowded and thus will have more attention from the kitchen and waitstaff. Also some places will raise prices once they get their great review etc. Thye best value is always to be ahead of the curve.

                              2. i don't have a policy. i like to both research places and hit up places on a whim. both techniques seem to work.

                                deb and i seldom go back to bad places. when an exemplary place like bayona falls flat i'll suck it up and give them another shot. places i like seem to stay on the radar for a long time.

                                i don't send letters to management if a place fails to meet expectations: i just don't go back. i do, however, send a personal note when expectations are exceeded.

                                it's funny how so many places are ill-equipped to deal with praise.

                                1. I only post about places I like (so they stay in business to visit another day), can't be bothered to post about places I didn't like - unless it's to respond where I don't agree.

                                  1. This is something close to my heart. I think most places are average, and rarely when I go out am I blown away. I think it's fair to write about what you liked and didn't and there shouldn't be a problem with anyone reading it, or so I thought.

                                    A few months ago a friend of mine from HS opened a restaurant in our home town. I went there one night for someone's birthday, the day after it got a glowing review in the NY Times. We were just meeting for drinks, but had wanted desperately to try the food. We ordered five appetizers and I was satisfied with one, and that was average. The portions and the price weren't a good match and the drinks were outrageous. So I went home and wrote a very long review about what was good and bad. I wrote that I did look forward to trying the entrees and that I had hoped that the poor showing was everyone trying to hard due to the review.

                                    Well you live and you learn. I found out just how many people read Chowhound and it got around very quickly that I had bashed a friends restaurant. The same way it got around quickly when I praised a burger joint of another friends in town (this was taken off the boards due to my relationship that was stated, and I wish now that Chowhound had done the same for the negative review). I was confronted one night by the owner of the bad reviewed establishment and quickly knew that he was hurt by this. I also realized he was cofusing me with someone who attacked him personally in another review.

                                    So here's my view after all of this. Sometimes when you have nothing nice to say, it IS better to say nothing at all. Did I have the right to write my review? Absolutely. When you spend $300 on a poor evening, you should have the right to say anything you want. I also know now that my opinion in the grand scheme meant nothing. He was busy for a while and then as the economy got into a deeper hole his business shrunk. I wish him the best, and hope he has wonderful success, as I do any restaurant. I think we all have the right to voice our opinions, but next time I will try and remember that sometimes friendship is worth more than voicing that opinion.

                                    1 Reply
                                    1. re: jhopp217

                                      well it speaks volumes about the business owner who, when confronted by criticism, takes a hostile and defensive posture, instead of an open minded one!

                                      That said, ofcourse most restaurants are average........hence the term "average". Btw, average is not a desirable goal!?lol

                                    2. Bad restaurants, for me, are a one time experience....I simply do not go back. During these economic times I think the good will be weeded out and the bad will simply disappear.
                                      Given that...if I have fantastic food or service they will know it. The tip for the waitstaff and the chef will be large and there will be a call the next day for the manager from me making sure they know how much I love them.

                                      1. I think it's important to post all kinds of reviews on Chowhound, the good, the bad, the indifferent. I don't trust posts from people who only rave and say everything's great.

                                        The important thing is to be truthful and not pretend to have more experience than you do.

                                        If you put down a place based on one experience, then make sure others on Chowhound know that. Don't put down all the food if you haven't tasted all the food. Just say, "I had a lousy steak last month" instead of putting down the entire restaurant.

                                        If you loved one meal at a restaurant, don't go making blanket recommendations about that restaurant, as if you go there all the time and know the entire menu. I see this frequently on Chowhound, especially when it comes to high-end restaurants. That special price-is-no-object celebratory meal just doesn't come around as often as we'd like. And when it does, even then, many feel tempted to try some place new anyway. So that amazing lamb dish you had at "Restaurant X" might be a once-in-a-lifetime experience, especially since the chef took it off the menu last Spring.

                                        I think it's best to give your opinions as you find them, let the chips fall where they may, but make sure other Chowhounds know where you are coming from.

                                        2 Replies
                                        1. re: Steve

                                          Well said. Great points, all.

                                          Qualifying one's impressions go a very long way.

                                          Hunt

                                          1. re: Steve

                                            Agreed. The surgical strike is best. Many restos have a mix of strong and weak dishes. Even with the weak ones, it may be a case where it doesn't appeal to your palate and yet does it for others.

                                            I also think it smart to, as you say, qualify your review if one has only been once. Great places should be consistent, but none are 100% so. Restaurateurs work so very hard they should be given a fair chance to succeed.

                                          2. I think it's a time & money saver when a respectable CHer puts out a review. If it's bad, I'll check for other comments and make a decision. Most times I'll pass, there are too many other good places to try in this world.