Problem with TripAdvisor et al
I posted this comment on the Florida site; but I feel it has more validity here.
TripAdvisor, has the tourist area restaurants and hotels, etc petrified. We returned last month from a 4 week trip to Germany and Italy. Almost every hospitality business; restaurants/hotels/rental apts/etc. all asked us to please give them a good review on TripAdvisor. This is the first time that I noticed the intense pressure on establishments for "a good review". I think the value of these review sites is being compromised. I find more success for what I am seeking with Blogs i.e. Katy Parla, Elizabeth Minchelli and their ilk, than the mega sites
I don't put much faith in Trip Advisor reviews, and I do follow Katie Parla. And of course Maureen Fant. But I find the Trip Advisor Forums quite helpful; there if someone mentions a restaurant in the context of a post, you can at least see if the person is a regular poster rather than a shill put up by either the restaurant or its competition.
I use Tripadvisor very often for hotel and activity planning, but not for food or restaurant choices. Chowhound rules for that! I had one hotel out of many ask me to post a review to boost their Tripadvisor presence, but they didn't demand that it must be good.
Im noticing a lot more local (meaning italian and local people) traffic on Italian restaurants on tripadvisor Some of its intelligent, some not so, and shilling is an issue, but the fact is that as with yelp it cant be totally discounted as a source. I wish there was so much traffic here that I did not need to look at tripadvisor etc but the fact is that in some areas there is very little chowhound comment
As you say, a lot of comment is being sapped off from discussion boards onto personal blogs, as people seek more personal expression and also to monetize their expertise. In addition to Katie, Elizabeth etc. there are other italian blogs worth visiting via google translate.
I comment on the tripadvisor hotel area occasionally when I have strong feelings about a place and either there are not a lot of comments or there is something to add, also on google and booking.com. I cant say that any of the places we have stayed recently have asked us to post a review, however.
I actually love TripAdvisor, especially for their hotel ratings. Agree that restaurant ratings are more hit & miss, but they're a great source when CH doesn't have many suggestions (internationally there's often a limited number of posters). Like Yelp, I take TA reviews with a grain of salt but they've helped me find a lot of great places that I wouldn't know otherwise, especially when one has to put location as a major factor when traveling. One super valuable resource for me is the traveler photos, either of hotels or restaurants, and not just what people say.
I've had a few places ask me to post a rating, and while it slightly bugs me, I understand it from a business perspective -- all businesses need advertising and if they have happy customers, then they should get the word out. It was strange when I was in Mexico and it seemed like a lot of restaurants, excursion companies, and hotels prominently posted their TripAdvisor rating in front, but I'll continue to use it, just like I continue to use Yelp, as a supplement to CH.
I agree with Jen & Pekoe that Tripadvisor has always given me stellar hotel/b&b/rental advice, especially if you can (as I'm sure you do here) learn to read between the lines of what people write, to know if they feel the same way about things that you do.
The forums I find especially invaluable, as they often have local experts who seem to hang around specifically to answer logistical questions (when does this new bus schedule come out, how is the best way to get to xyz, has this restaurant reopened yet, etc).
But as for food, I have to say that I too have tried it out for recommendations when there hasn't been relevant coverage here, and I have definitely learned my lesson the hard way - do not be tempted to even take the tiniest peek at their restaurant coverage. If you can't find a recommendation here, turn to the Slow Food guide, Gambero Rosso, etc., or just follow your nose, and go where you see the biggest group of locals.
I have been asked to write reviews a few times, and I'm not a big fan of this request either. If I like a place, and its the kind of small establishment that I know will appreciate a good review, I will give them one without being asked. And I tend to find that the places I enjoy the most are polite enough not to ask in the first place.
You said: "go where you see the biggest group of locals."
Sorry to disagree with you. Thirty nine years of visiting Italy and spending a lot of time here, says that most locals do not have a clue about good food. Almost all of the time, it is about price, price, price... not about the quality of the food and preparation.
Where I live in Tuscany, my local friends, when they go out, want an inexpensive meal, they want to eat quickly and want the food to be something they recognize. And these are the ones who pride themselves on "knowing food" and "knowing the best local places." We've also found this to be the situation all over northern Italy.
As far as restaurant recommendations on Trip Adviser, the less said the better. It is an abomination, from people, mostly Americans, who have no idea of what great food in Italy really is... and it can be really great.
With all the shortcomings, and there are many, it is far far better to use Gambero Rosso and Osterie d'Italia to try to find good places.
I was thinking not specifically of Italy when I mentioned that, but I guess I should have qualified it (the OP had mentioned Florida). I have had some of the best meals of my trips to Mexico and other parts of Latin America by following the locals. Might not work in Italy, but generally speaking its a good technique.
As a travel business owner I can testify that TA actually encourages hotel/restaurant owners to ask for reviews. I don't see anything wrong with that as long as one asks politely. Times are hard for small companies due to economy and sometimes a handful of reviews can make or break a season.
As for restaurant reviews, the do tend to be unreliable because what's delicious for someone can be utterly horrible for someone else.
I can give you this tip however: when you want to use TA reviews of Italian restaurants switch to Italian first. You can always use Google translator if you don't understand Italian.
Italians are very critical of restaurant food. Note that they tend to give less points than foreign visitors. They tend to have a better idea of the expected standard of a specific recipe or service as compared to an occasional visitor.
If a restaurant has an average of good reviews by locals it's most likely going to be at least reasonable.
And of course photos by actual guests of a restaurant are a big help. Beyond the presentation - not important for simple places - you can somewhat judge the quality of ingredients if you look carefully.
I have to agree totally with Madonnadelpiatto - switch to italian (in italy) and use googletranslate and the usability quotient goes ways up. Problem is,t here are still a whole lot of shills and too many posters complaining about the cost of their meals (this seems typical on Italian discussion boards) but the volume of information posted and number of posters has increased quite a bit in the last few years.
Madonna del piatto's tip on reading the tripadvisor in the home tongue is excellent advice. In Italy, I have found more authentic regional ristoranti and osterie, by using this method.
Also, I tend to drop the "outliers" on both ends, the "worst place I have ever been, DON'T EVER GO HERE" as well as "Best dinner of my life, best staff, wonderful dining room best prices, and the menu is in 10 languages". Taste in all things is very subjective at best. To paraphrase H.L.Mencken, "No one ever went broke underestimating the intelligence (bad taste) of the American (foreign) public (tourist). Having said this; actually some "reviews" can be quite entertaining............
I've had only request for a TripAdvisor review and that one was very nicely phrased. The hostess at B&B asked me to post a comment saying she hoped we enjoyed our stay and would tell others about her B&B. She went on to say if we weren't happy she'd appreciate the chance to address the issue (if she could) before we left. She went on to say that ANY review was welcome because that pushed them towards the "top of the list" when TripAdvisor was searched for B&B's in her area. I thought she handled it like the southern lady she was. We'll go back and encourage others to try her place.
I don't mind being called an "ilk", especially when I"m in such good company!
My feeling about TripAdvisor, like any of those types of sites, is you have to know how to read them. I think if you spend a lot of time on TripAdvisor, you can get a feeling of which types of reviews are reliable, and which not so much.
I agree, though, that of all the reviews, the restaurants are the least helpful. And in this case (sorry, am 100% biased here) I believe going with the locals in the know is your best bet. How can you possibly compare a review based on one meal by someone visiting town to an indepth review from someone who lives there? That's why I always turn to Chowhound, and other local blogs, first, for resturants in cities I am visiting.