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Apr 27, 2009 11:13 AM

Places/Restaurants Redesign- Feedback & Ideas?

We are starting to plan a series much-needed improvements to the places (restaurants & bars) section of the site. We launched places two years ago and it has grown into a database of more than 50,000 restaurants, thanks to the tireless efforts of Chowhound users who have both added each of those records to the database, and helped work around several bugs such as creation of duplicates.  We now want to build on that foundation and improve on it in the following ways:

1. Create a more complete database of places by licensing basic venue data from an third-party, and eliminate the burden on the users of creating every record, and monitoring for duplicates.

2. Make it easier to find places by location, neighborhood, cuisine, price, special features, average rating, etc. 

3. Offer more and better organized factual information about the place such as hours of operation, alcohol served, website link, maps, as well as tools like a link to make a reservation.

4. Make it easier to find, dig into, and participate in the wealth of Chowhound conversation about a given place. This will involve an improved presentation of Chowhound threads and excerpts on the places pages, an invitation to participate on that page, as well as automatic linking to place records on a Chowhound thread discussing a given place.

We are eager to hear your feedback on these plans, as well as your ideas for other features you'd like to see. We promise to listen carefully to this feedback, and though we might not be able to incorporate every suggestion in this first release, we will certainly consider them all.

Thanks, we look forward to hearing your thoughts!

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  1. 1. Good. I only hope it doesn't step over what is there.

    2. Good ideas, but what is your thought about implementing that?

    3. What type of change to hours of operations?. When Places first started, I hated the free-form hours of operation field. I've come to really appreciate it and now hate the way Yelp does it which is often more difficult and inaccurate. I like that opentable has a similar freeform hour field for restaurants to fill in as appropriate.

    Alcohol served is really useful info. I've been noting 'full bar' next to those that have one. I'd lke to see the category broken up more than Yelp to

    -full bar
    - Wine
    - Beer
    - None
    - Unknown

    I dislike combined categories as they don't give quite the accurate picture. A wine bar might not have any beer. A brewpub, similarily, usually won't have wine.

    It would be nice to have a reservation link.

    4. This is really difficult to do and believe me I've spent lots of time thinking about it. Do you have any mockups on what is being planned?

    1 Reply
    1. re: rworange

      Thanks for your great feedback. A few responses:
      1. the licensed data will not replace any existing records, it will just fill in gaps (i.e. fields that are not complete for existing restaurants, and/or restaurants that are not in the database at all)
      2. We will provide detailed search options for users to search by the above fields alone or in combination, so you can narrow to a particular neighborhood, a particular cuisine, and a particular price range, etc.
      3.Thanks, useful feedback on the hours & alcohol fields, we'll take that into account. And we will be implementing a reservations link, where available.
      4. Yes, this is without a doubt the biggest challenge of the project, and we want to get it right. We welcome your thoughts on this, and we are working on mockups for this, and we will be reviewing them with a small focus group of users to get feedback.

    2. Some really high level things I'd like to see

      1. Reservations and Credit Cards

      Display "NO". Otherwise it is difficult to know if it is 'no' or 'unknown' without going into edit

      2. Like almost every restaurant site, have a table of price categories and lose average price. That is too difficult to deal with and I really tried. Prices change. I'm never going back to change a price.

      For most sites, there are four levels. If you do more like Menupages, it is confusing since everyone else has four levels. I've been adding that currently to the atmosphere field using $$$$=expensive, $$$=pricy, $$=moderate, $=inexpensive.

      Yes, I know pricey is the preferred spelling.

      Except for $$$ the other terms are the most used across the many sites I looked at. It doesn't matter how you calculate that ... entree, whole meal ... it seems that a restaurant will fall into the same category no matter how that is determined.

      3. Add a section for Event Facilities ... most important is if there are private, semi-private areas and how many they accomodate. I've been adding that to "what's it like" Here's an example

      4. Add the option for more than 4 photos like Yelp

      5. Be careful about neighborhoods. Don't combine. "Tenderloin/Civic Center/Hayes Valley" tells me nothing. ONE neighborhood with the option of adding more than one nabe when it really does straddle certain areas. There should still be some freeform option for locations not in the main stream. San Jose downtown is different than San Jose Blossom Valley or San Jose Santana Row

      6. Let search display the 'what's it like section again'

      I've been adding brief descriptions at the beginning so when people search they can get an idea if this is something they want to look at further. The old search is still out there and this is what I mean.

      7. Have ten levels of ratings. Yelp's five stars don't do it. Allow for zero ... there are places that deserve nothing.

      8. Have a menu option. Either a link or an upload function. Preferably both. There are lots of places that don't have websites or links to the better known menu sites.

      13 Replies
      1. re: rworange

        Again, thanks for all of this valuable, detailed feedback. Very helpful, and we'll incorporate these ideas as we continue. Thanks again.

        1. re: CHOW HQ

          One more strong opinion for NO ratings. Jim Leff probably said it best here, and I hope he has some cred going to give importance to that opinion.

          It's the essence of chowhound to report on a place that may have one or two great items in a sea of mediocrity. No rating can capture that and would serve only to misrepresent the place.

        2. re: rworange

          Please, NO ratings. Star ratings, numerical ratings, doesn't matter. Ratings make Yelp, Zagat, etc. what they are (which is not discussion forums), and the absence of ratings helps make Chowhound what it is. Besides, currently reviews go on the Chowhound boards as posts/threads, and basic restaurant facts go in place records. Incorporating ratings into place records invites people to rate restaurants there instead of discussing them on the boards.

          I hope Chow HQ will have some internal discussions about this before considering adding a rating feature. I feel it would dilute and distort what Chowhound is.

            1. re: rworange

              I find it...cute, in a way. I'm not arguing that ratings aren't useful in some contexts. I just don't think Chowhound is one of those contexts, because it is a discussion forum, intended to provide space for back-and-forth discussions, and I feel if people can simply rate restaurants in places, it potentially dilutes discussions on the boards.

              Don't know how Jim Leff would feel about it in this context, but I also don't recall him advocating ratings as a feature here on Chwhound. I'm expressing my own opinion, and I hope, as I said above, that the folks at Chow will consider whether such a thing makes sense in the context of Chowhound before deciding to implement.

                1. re: Caitlin McGrath

                  Very late to this discussion, sorry.

                  Absolutely, ratings are a bad idea.

                  First: Chowhound has always been super diverse...apples vs oranges vs plums vs toboggans vs helicopters. Can't possibly rate a bakery that is horrendous except for one item so great it's worth a 100 mile trip along the same rating scale as a pretty good diner, an inconsistent high end sushi place, and an exemplary italian ice cart. Just wouldn't make sense. Chowhound's value is in going super wide, calibrating for each context, and not painting with the same brush. Ratings are a ditzy intrusion on that, don't work in that setting, don't make sense, and send the wrong message re: what we're about.

                  Second: ratings imply a frozen, static quality level that has never applied to the ever-dynamic food scene. That's the guidebook and newspaper model, but we're in a new century and in a new media with a new model. Places waver, and Chowhound's value is in tracking those ups and downs IN REAL TIME. Not in a definitive way (e.g. "Mildred's soup was oversalted on Wednesday...quick, drop that place half a star!"). But in a more immediate and scattershot (but, in the end, quite useful) way....that doesn't lend itself to ratings. At all.

                  Third, and most importantly, Chowhound's value lies in its critical mass of expert users. And this is NOT a ratings crowd. In fact, they're here to recoil from that sort of model, so prevalent everywhere else. If we tinker with the formula by introducing this ditzy, unchowhoundish feature and the place will come to feel less like the place where this smart, large crowd has felt like home. i'm not saying people will leave in droves over ratings. it's just a chipping away of the distinguishing personality and values of the place, making it more like everywhere else. And as less chowhoundish people - the type who really LIKE ratings-based set-ups - squeal with glee, their increased participation on the boards will dilute data quality and repel the more expert users who were so very difficult to recruit in the first place. And entropy only runs in one direction.

                  So i think this is a really bad idea, fwiw :(

                  1. re: Jim Leff

                    I know I am late to this, but I just read your post on another thread, linking to your post here. If there have to be star ratings, could older ratings fall off the star calculation after a period of time, say 6 months? Or once a certain number of newer ratings had been posted? Things do change, and it seems wrong that a restaurant will continue to have accolades or criticisms it no longer deserves, affecting the star rating.

                    1. re: Full tummy

                      Old musician's saying:

                      You can't polish a turd.

                      1. re: Jim Leff

                        I guess you feel that strongly about it.

                        1. re: Full tummy

                          No, don't mistake the coarse language for raging disgust. Nothing like that. I'm just acknowledging that star ratings on chowhound are an irreconcilably poor fit (for reasons me and others have stated), and trying to massage a few parameters won't change that.

              1. I agree improvements are needed and I think all these proposed changes sound great.

                #1 - with third-party database, this means users will no longer to be able to create a new record at all, is that right? I don't have a problem with it, but I assume that if there is a place missing, we could alert the team through the usual methods?
                I guess it would also help eliminate totally useless records where a user has simply inserted a town or city name instead of a complete address, ie

                It will also help with consistency (I'm an editor and writer). Right from the beginning, I developed a sort of "style" where all entries on the Ontario board were consistent in the way the address and other information was provided, including punctuation, etc. I soon realized my "style guide" was not consistent with other place hubs but at least it was within the Ontario hub, at least my entries.

                #2 Love that it will be made more easily searchable. I have had huge issues with this, especially because I deliberately inserted descriptions or phrases that I knew would prove useful for searches later, only to have it not work.

                #3 - I agree heartily with rworange's suggestion about private events. Early on, I saw the need to be able search and find places that offered good private party services. So I started inserting "private functions" but then realized that almost any restaurant can offer private functions of any sort. It's the private rooms that people need definite information about -- how many does a room seat, any amenities, audio-visual equipment, round or square tables, prix fixe, etc etc. So I started flagging with "private room" instead and even the maximum number seated for these rooms, which worked relatively in regards to searchability for a while but no longer.

                #4 - with the changes to the database and improvements to accessing related Chowhound conversation, this will greatly help eliminate shills posting their own record or a disgrunted diner ranting about a bad experience in the "What's it like" field rather than on the regular threads.

                These are my initial thoughts, but will be mulling it over further.

                1. For starters:

                  - FIX THE SEARCH FUNCTION FIRST. At least the previous one allowed you to search by Title and (IIRC) other fields RELIABLY. Sheesh.

                  - Consider Breaking Up the Place 'address' field into street address, city, state, zip/postal code, country. This should improve the accuracy and maintainability of the database. The region attribute possibly could be calculated automatically but be overrideable (sp?).

                  - Add a feature to flag and hopefully *Merge* Duplicate Places by street address and city. Not so old topics have links to duplicate Places which makes it much harder to 'drill down' from the Place to relevant topics. BTW thank you for renaming the Add Place dialog to include Find Place - much clearer terminology.

                  - Add the 'Missing' cuisine types that have been pointed out ad infinitum or change them to Tags (allow multiple types per place). Arguably, some existing ones are subtypes of others and possibly could be removed e.g. taqueria as a subtype of Mexican (use tags instead).

                  - A long lost request - figure out a way to Search for Places 'Nearby' (an arbitrary street address / intersection OR an existing Place) and display them on a map. IIRC Yelp has something like it.

                  - A long lost request - FIX THE @#$%&* PHOTO VIEWER! Pictures/menus scanned and uploaded to Places are mostly useless at their current display resolution. It's simple - if Chow HQ can't/won't remove the right hand ad column, view the picture in its own maximized, temporary, scrollable pop up window just like a bazillion other web sites.

                  - After Places are cleaned up some (heh), PLEASE FIX LISTS. I want my private lists private! I want a way to find and bookmark 'favorite' lists. Lists should be a drop down bar heading next to Places (btw rename Restaurants and Bars back to...).

                  - Ratings, neigh. CH is not Yelp. Restaurant owners should just get a clue - give them their own FAQ written with simple words and phrases in a large type font.

                  - Price category - I'd rather Read The Menu :-) for myself. $ in NYC will probably be $$$ in many other cities. People on budgets will see $ as $$ etc. Not a priority feature IMO.

                  - Neighborhoods - basically a tag. Not very useful for searching IMO.

                  - Improve and clarify tag searching - see topic

                  In summary, give preference to streamlining and fixing existing important features. Regarding 'new' features, I have an alert button and I know how to use it:

                  Thanks for listening. Seriously!

                  3 Replies
                  1. re: DiveFan

                    An Other category in cuisine type that opens a field to be filled in could be helpful in addition.

                    1. re: DiveFan

                      One of the things I use most is the price category. It is one of the top questions asked on the SF board.

                      Seems to work both nationally and internationally on Opentable.

                      I was thinking about this and maybe something similar could be done similar to Opentable where if you click on the word 'price', you get a price legend. Here's a Canadian restaurant just to use an example outside of the US

                      There could be some price legends in the FAQ and help section. Opentable only uses three levels. Unless you want to get nitty about it using opentable which bases it on the entree price

                      $$$$ = over 50
                      $$$= 31 - 50
                      $$ = under 30

                      Yep, when i'm in some small town, someplace serving $20 entrees might fall into the $$$ category for the location. Still,using the 80% rule, that about covers most places nationwide. I'f I'm spending under $30 I think of the joint as moderate, the middlle as pricey and unless things are really that sad in NYC, wouldn't entrees over $50 qualify as expensive.

                      It is the stuff on the borders of these prices that are sometimes hard to determine, but whether a place that serves upper $20 entrees mainly is $$ or $$$ isn't that big a deal in the grand scheme.

                      And ... there is nothing stopping you from looking at the menu ... if there is one.

                      Pretty much, never looking at a single menu, people know which restaurants fall in what category in their area.

                      1. re: DiveFan

                        Just wanted to add a quick note that the private list problem should be resolved, so you can go back and mark your lists private and they should remain connected to your account.

                      2. Be able to add it to my favorites on my my chow page. I know I can add a post that has the link, but i'd like to find it quicker.

                        2 Replies
                          1. re: free sample addict aka Tracy L

                            Have you tried using lists to save those favorites? There's an 'add this place to a list' on each Place.