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Feb 17, 2011 11:18 AM

How useful is Chowhound?

OK, maybe I could have thought of a better title, but it's what I've been thinking recently.

It seems ever time I open a thread like this:

"My FAVORITE place to eat in Such and Such City is Mike's. They have the best steak and the wine list is extensive. Our dessert was to die for! The place was packed and we were lucky to get a reservation; we hear it is booked for months. I can't rave enough."

The responses are:

"Reallly?!? My wife and I ate there the other night and the steak was tough, the wine list at our local deli is more extensive and I'd rather have had a Twinkie than the dessert I ordered. I would never recommend Mike's to anyone. Plus, the place was empty."


"Mike's used to be good but now everyone goes to Joe's. It's like what the old Mike's used to be, but better And by the way...a quick search of Open Table shows Mike's is far from 'booked for months'."


"We love Mike's, but not for steak, wine or dessert. The chicken is the dish to order and their beer on tap is what we saw everyone ordering. We skipped the boring desserts and opted for a cheese plate."

OK, I made up all the above comments but you get the drift. It's difficult to get a majority opinion about any restaurant on this site. It's frustrating and to be honest, I have stopped listening to people's reviews on this site. I really don't know what to think anymore. I understand everyone is entitled to their own opinion, but when they differ so much about one place, what is one to think?

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  1. There are certain regular CHers whose opinions carry more weight, for me, than others. There are a lot of folks in this community these days and as such, there are a lot of opinions. But I've noticed there are sharks out there lurking and waiting to jump on threads headed as the example one you described. There looking for a debate. It's all in the wording, IMHO. But I think it should be expected, to some degree, if you start a thread about a restaurant experience. I mean, that's the whole point in starting a thread in a community setting. But yes, there are those Debbie & Donny Downers who like to poo-poo everything. Too bad CH doesn't have an "ignore" function so that you can block their posts from your site.

    When I was first introduced to CH several years ago by our local food editor she told me that a catch post heading was key to drawing attention and getting good responses.

    3 Replies
    1. re: lynnlato

      Thanks for an intelligent response lynnlato. I of course know there will always be a difference of opinion, but I have opened so many restaurant review posts in the last few weeks (here and other sites) that just seem like 10 different opinions from 10 different people. It makes my head spin.

      1. re: ttoommyy

        Well, what you're seeing IS 10 different opinions from 10 different people. Everyone has their own preferences, likes, dislikes and peeves. I think there are few "absolutes" in food, and I doubt you'd ever see everyone agree on one thing. It may just be that a discussion forum isn't right for you. Traditional newspaper restaurant reviews might be more to your liking, when a food "expert" gives his/her opinion, rather than people of varying expertise, taste and styles offering theirs. Personally, I like the variety of opinion that a discussion forum offers, but I agree it's a lot more work to figure out which of those 10 different posters I might agree with.

        1. re: Chris VR

          Also, when there are ten different opinions from ten different people, you can still find a lot of good information there. If eight of the ten love a place, it means something different from when eight of the ten hate it. And, as previously mentioned, opinions are rarely just "I like it" or "I hate it"; what makes Chowhound so good is that people tell exactly what they liked (or hated) about it. You can use that in the context of which restaurant dishes and features are most important to you, and which things you don't care about.

    2. I tend to "follow" the advice of the people I know that have the same taste that I have.

      It takes time to get to know those people; and yes, there are times when opinion diverge; or when a restaurant looses its edge and not noticed because it has not been reviewed or visited for a long time.


      1. I agree that the value of recommendations on the site are frequently only useful if you know the poster. Often comparing someone else's notes to your own experiences at a common restaurant is a good indicator.

        One thing we can all keep in mind to increase the utility of our comments, however, is to go beyond the "fish was great," recitations and try to incorporate some explanation. For example: "I really enjoyed the fluke. Although it's not a fish I eat often, it had the the flavor I enjoy in other flat fish. The preparation was rich in buttery-lemon goodness and the flesh was cooked to the more flaky texture that I prefer." Or something to that effect.

        1. Agreeing with others comments that certain CHers comments carry more weight, particularly if I've noticed their prior posts indicating similar tastes/preferences to mine.

          I have also found that CH has been incredibly useful when planning personal or business travel to other cities/countries. I've enjoyed the ability to search and review multiple threads, representing posts over a range of time, because when a restaurant/dish/wine was getting favorable comment from various posters at different points in time it was more likely to make my list of "must try."

          1. "Agreeing with others comments that certain CHers comments carry more weight, particularly if I've noticed their prior posts indicating similar tastes/preferences to mine."


            When traveling to a new city, I always use it to unearth the great places. When doing this I spend a lot of time searching topics of interest and doing my homework -- noting the quality of the comments of certain people. I also note how many favorable comments there about a place are vs. unfavorable. It hasn't always worked out brilliantly, but I can remember one occasion in particular where i struck up a conversation with people at the next table (at a place that turned out to be wonderful). When I said it was my first night in town, they said, "How did you find this place? I lived here three years before I heard about it!"

            24 Replies
            1. re: woodleyparkhound

              Getting restaurant recommendations in cities (or countries) I'm visiting is, for me, one of the most valuable aspects of CH. When asking for advice in unfamiliar territory I'm often not familiar enough with the individual posters to know if their tastes are similar to mine, but on the whole I trust CH recs WAAAAY more than I do, say, Zagats or one of the generic travel guides (i.e., Fodors or Fromers).

              1. re: CindyJ

                >> on the whole I trust CH recs WAAAAY more than I do, say, Zagats or one of the generic travel guides (i.e., Fodors or Fromers)

                ...or Y**p! :)

                1. re: nsxtasy

                  Actually I've found Yelp to be very helpful at times.

                  #1 For identifying off-the-beaten path restaurants that never get mentioned on Chowhound
                  #2 In certain areas where there isn't much of a CH community and where most of the posts tend to be a rehash of Frommers and Fodors. My goodness -- I've even seen some of the exact words that the Frommers and Fodors authors use in their guides to describe a place. This is where Yelp really comes in handy.

                  1. re: nsxtasy

                    it varies by where you are, but yelp is very helpful in many places

                  2. re: CindyJ

                    I hope anyone getting advice on the International boards report back from their trips, even if it is to simply say they liked or disliked a place. IMO, that is really helpful to others who might be looking for the same info.

                    I post about Guatemala I've given tips to three people and none of them bothered so much as agreeing or disagreeing with the recs. I may LOVE a place but others may not. It is good to have differences of opinion or confirm they liked it. At this point I'd even be happy with a "+1" as much as I despites that sort of post.

                    One poster ruined it for everyone else. I took pity on someone who emailed me that due to working day and night, they were leaving for GT iat the end of the week and please give recs. I made an exception due to time constraints and made recs thru email.

                    That wil NEVER happen again.

                    While that poster somehow found time in a busy schedule to email and ask for tips, not only did the poster fail to post about the trip, there was no response to my email asking how it went.

                    Since the International boards don't get as much play as the US boards, I hope tourists will do follow up pasts after seeking advice. It helps everyone.

                    1. re: rworange

                      rworange, you're one strict CH. Sounds more like a test! I would fail to live up to your expectations.

                      1. re: HillJ

                        I don't even report back on all the advice I get here for various reasons.

                        But when there are multiple posts or emails asking for specific details, it somehow seems right to pay it foward by as little as a one word "liked" or "disliked" post.

                        While I will continue to answer questions on the boards, no one is ever getting advice from me by email again. I've had other similar experiences over the years and this just sealed the coffin.

                        Or do you think an email response of "thank you, I'm swamped with work and will try to get back to you" is too excessinve a requirement to my one line email (really) of "how was the trip'?"

                        1. re: rworange

                          can't control the outcome rworange. pay it forward means to assist without expectation.

                          1. re: HillJ

                            No problem for me. I'm not the person who needs help finding restaurants. But it would be a help to others reading the boards.

                            1. re: linguafood

                              The topic is How useful is Chowhound.

                              It isn't useful if people take and don't give back.

                              I don't care too much about the breach in etiquette from the emailer. The point is that the International boards don't get as much traffic as the Us boards.

                              That is true of International travel sites in general unless hitting the travel biggies.

                              No, people don't NEED to report back. But if asking for help, to me it seems a no brainer to try to help out others by adding to the info base. .

                              1. re: rworange

                                Well, it would be nice if people got back to you regarding the recs you made. As someone who practically runs the Berlin section of the Europe board, I am well aware of your experiences. Happens to me all the time.

                                It's unfortunate, but I can live with the idea that I am an appreciated resource even tho not everybody pats me on the back for it.

                                1. re: linguafood

                                  I am an appreciated resource even tho not everybody pats me on the back for it.
                                  thank you linguafood, you're a gem.

                                  1. re: linguafood

                                    But the thing is, it's not about getting patted on the back or being appreciated. It's about letting other people that come here know what it takes to make CH a better, more useful site. We have folks who are more than ready to hold the mod's accountable for what they feel is making the site less useful - over moderation. While I don't agree that point is a fair one to discuss. But we also need to point out and discuss that the life blood of CH is more reports on new, or even old places, through fresh eyes.

                                    1. re: Servorg

                                      There is absolutely nothing wrong with appreciation. Some CH's are better at thanking than others. Appreciation is in the eye of the beholder anyway and while I believe rworange, you are a dynamo resource/researcher/fellow CH, I think having an expectation is going to disappoint you on occasion.

                                      But, I have no issue offering thanks to a fellow hound. That's community.

                                      1. re: Servorg

                                        True, dat. It's just that you can't force people to give feedback or even return to CH after they've found what they are looking for here - good advice on good eats, more often than not it's a one time deal, like when they are visiting a new city.

                                        It would be great if everyone did that, for sure, but by being passive-aggressive as in "I will only give you tips if you promise to report back" won't be effective, me thinks.

                                        1. re: linguafood

                                          me agrees. The give and take happens naturally.

                                          1. re: linguafood

                                            I often nudge new posters who come to the LA board with a request by closing many of my recommendation posts by saying "And if you really want to thank the hounds that contributed so many ideas to you in response to your need simply come back here and let us know where you went, what you ate and how you liked it."

                                            1. re: Servorg

                                              Good idea. I might steal that one for my Berlin recs '-)

                                              1. re: linguafood

                                                I do that on the SF board, adding the personal incentive of "and if you report back, we get to know your tastes. As a result, we can give better tips if you revisit"

                                            2. re: linguafood

                                              >>> "I will only give you tips if you promise to report back"

                                              NO, that is not what I said. I clearly said I wil give tips on the board.

                                              I will no longer give offline tips through email. which is outside of the activity of the board ... I don't care what your sad story is.

                                              If I give tiips on the board, whether or not that person responds, other people can benefit. I feel that is a good use of my time.

                                              If that person, who asked for quite a bit of advice by email had sent anything, I could have posted that on the board saying that a poster sent me an email saying they liked or disliked the tips... that would have benefitted all.

                                              This took up my personal time and benefitted one person.If I wanted to be a personal travel agent I would get a job doing that and get paid. That is the end of that on my part. If someone wants tips, ask on the board.

                                              1. re: rworange

                                                But that's the gist of CH anyway, right? By sending people tips via email, nobody else benefits except for that one person you wrote to privately.

                                                1. re: linguafood

                                                  Yeah. I was a sucker for a sob story. Won't happen again.

                                                  1. re: rworange

                                                    If it makes you feel any better, my rationale for replying to those emailed requests with sob stories about how they can't find the info they need or don't have time is that people like that who have not spent eons of time preplanning where they are going to eat and what the local cuisine is like are not going to benefit from anything that I have to say. They're obviously not live to eat people or they wouldn't be in that predicament. So it's really pointless of me to make recs, nothing I like will be suitable for them.

                                                    I do understand that the search engine is not intuitive to outsiders and sometimes I will just forward a link to a thread that is relevant. But mostly I just ignore the email requests because the asker just won't "get it".

                                                    In the pre-CNET days, I used to reply to those kind of requests with a request for a $1000 contribution to Now I tell the ones who send multiple requests (yes, some people are obnoxious enough to email more than once asking why I haven't replied to them) they can paypal me a $1000 retainer and I'll write a custom itinerary for them. No one has ever done it. Just goes to show that some people feel that their time is worth more than my own. Feh.

                                          2. re: linguafood

                                            Nope. People aren't getting it.

                                            I don't want people getting back to ME.I want them getting back to the board.

                                            I don't want to be THE resource. I want to encourage people to be amoung the many resources.

                                            I don't want to be patted on the back. I'd rather get kicked in the ass with a "you gave me a lousy rec" because that gives a more balanced picture to everyone.

                                            Again, the issue is how useful is Chowhound.

                                            It is only as useful as people make it.