The value of food reviews and customer opinions

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josephmartins
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2010/06/29 12:41:20 (permalink)

The value of food reviews and customer opinions

A few weeks back I was researching customer opinions about the food quality of anticipated competitors in my area.  I wanted to know what customers were saying about them so I visited sites such as Yelp and Chowhound to read customer reviews.

I recall reading comments that were all over the map.  Too salty, not salty enough.  Too sweet, not sweet enough.  Too spicy, not spicy enough. Tasty and bland.  Even in cases where a clear majority enjoyed the food, there was always a handful (1-5%) of tough critics and many more who were indifferent. Some people were incredibly harsh with their comments.

I got to thinking about some statistics I had read a couple months back published by the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders. In a nutshell, people are either born with or eventually develop disorders that affect both taste and smell.  We're not talking small numbers here.  Genetics, age, smoking and even medications can play a role in our ability to taste.  According to the latest research, approximately 25 percent of Americans are nontasters, 50 percent are medium tasters, and 25 percent are "supertasters." That's 1 in 4 people who have a poor sense of taste...or about 77 million Americans. And another 2 in 4 are just average...another 154 million Americans.

Naturally, I began to wonder about the value of food reviews written by people and places we know very little about.  Certainly perceived meal quality and taste is affected by everything from preparation to presentation. But what about those 3 out of 4 people whose sense of taste and smell is at or way below average?

Food reviews offer no context.  With few exceptions, we know nothing about how the food was prepared, the quality of the ingredients, or how it was presented (though some reviews offer photos of the presentation).  More importantly, we know nothing about the people writing the reviews.  Do they suffer from phantom taste perception? Hypogeusia? Ageusia? Dysguesia? Are they even aware if they have a problem with their sense of smell or taste? Taste can be affected by such things as:
  • Upper respiratory and middle ear infections
  • Radiation therapy for cancers of the head and neck
  • Exposure to certain chemicals, such as insecticides and some medications, including some common antibiotics and antihistamines
  • Head injury
  • Some surgeries to the ear, nose, and throat (e.g., third molar—wisdom tooth—extraction and middle ear surgery)
  • Poor oral hygiene and dental problems

I concluded that individual food reviews, especially completely anonymous food reviews, are of little value. Without greater context it's virtually impossible to determine if the recipe, the restaurant, the reviewer, or some combination of the three is responsible for a favorable or unfavorable review. Aggregate reviews are only somewhat more helpful in that they help us see, on average, if customers enjoyed the food or not.  Heck, many people (myself included) may not realize they have an impaired sense of smell or taste if they have no point of reference....so we would have no idea that the problem is our impairment (and not the food).

Clearly such reviews are readily available from many online sources so they have an impact on the perception of others. And it's unfortunate that so many people simply believe what they read without question. But it is what it is, and I understand that. There's nothing you and I can really do about it. 

So I ask you, what is your opinion of customer food reviews?  How do you deal with them?


post edited by josephmartins - 2010/06/29 13:44:42
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    Stephen Rushmore Jr.
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    Re:The value of food reviews and customer opinions 2010/06/29 13:42:31 (permalink)
    Nice writeup, and welcome to Roadfood.

    Another problem with those review sites (versus a site like Roadfood) is that personal personal preferences can impact the score.  For example, a hot dog an Weiner Circle may be the best in Chicago, but I would bet the average person traveling there from Northern NJ will think it is nothing special.  We all have foodie bias, and Yelp and a few other web sites don't take that into account.

    It can even be something as simple as how you like your burger cooked.  I prefer mine rare, which is something 5-guys doesn't do.  If I were forced to score the place on a review web site it would measure quite low.
    #2
    josephmartins
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    Re:The value of food reviews and customer opinions 2010/06/29 14:09:27 (permalink)
    Thank you Stephen, I'm glad to have found this forum.

    Those are excellent additional points.  I can just imagine how your examples of regional/ethnic tastes and personal preferences might affect a review. Personal biases simply aren't captured by review sites.

    Some businesses roll with the punches and others seem to take the criticism a bit too seriously.

    For example, I had read about more than one restaurant that invited harsh critics back for another opportunity to serve them. In cases where the criticism was primarily about the meal and not the service, and specifically about the "taste" of the meal, I wondered about the outcome.  Would another meal really change that customer's mind if the customer's sense of taste is impaired or personal preference differs from the way the food is prepared?  Unfortunately the journalists writing these articles never publish follow-ups.

    As I embark on my own business I will look for general patterns in customer feedback to help me understand. And I will try my best to ensure consistency in raw ingredients, preparation and service to minimize product and service inconsistencies. My gut tells me that I should keep an eye on the feedback, but not take it too personally when it's about something as nebulous and ambiguous as "taste".
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    Mamie
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    Re:The value of food reviews and customer opinions 2010/09/03 21:16:11 (permalink)
    in my opinion, I think a lot of bad "reviews" are done by competitors ... that's one of the things that concerns me.  I'm thinking if I can ever get the restaurant that I want, the guy I use to work for would post negative comments -
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    josephmartins
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    Re:The value of food reviews and customer opinions 2010/09/03 22:56:54 (permalink)
    It's always possible Mamie. Unfortunately, I think it's far more common than anyone might imagine. 
     
    In some sense it's like stealing. Rather than earn an outstanding reputation on their own, they'd rather "steal" from the reputations of their competitors (with fictional reviews) to elevate their own.
     
    I have zero faith in the current crop of online reviews which lack sufficient context, but to my disappointment many consumers swear by them. Our best bet, in my opinion, is to serve customers as best we can and nurture long-lasting relationships. Satisfied customers become champions online and their voices drown out the nay-sayers.
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    Mamie
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    Re:The value of food reviews and customer opinions 2010/09/03 23:45:56 (permalink)
    josephmartins
    In some sense it's like stealing. Rather than earn an outstanding reputation on their own, they'd rather "steal" from the reputations of their


    you're right, it is stealing and bearing false witness too
    #6
    chewingthefat
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    Re:The value of food reviews and customer opinions 2010/09/04 13:02:31 (permalink)
    Mamie

    in my opinion, I think a lot of bad "reviews" are done by competitors ... that's one of the things that concerns me.  I'm thinking if I can ever get the restaurant that I want, the guy I use to work for would post negative comments -


    You are dead on, don't forget the PO'd ex employees.
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    bartl
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    Re:The value of food reviews and customer opinions 2010/09/04 13:12:37 (permalink)
    Yelp.com CLAIMS to have sophisticated software that tracks and eliminates fake reviews. They don't give the criteria; I remember several of my reviews were being blocked, and they would not tell me what I was doing wrong (but they came back within a couple of days). This, of course, also makes it harder for fake reviewers to do an end run around their rules.
     
    Bart
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    chewingthefat
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    Re:The value of food reviews and customer opinions 2010/09/04 13:17:45 (permalink)
    I was told yesterday by a source that should know, that Yelp contacts a restaurant within 30 days of positive reviews offering services for a fee, non subscribers see their positive reviews disappear.
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    Mamie
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    Re:The value of food reviews and customer opinions 2010/09/04 22:53:49 (permalink)
    didn't think about  disgruntled employees ... the list just keeps getting longer.
     
    fake reviews are like stuffing the ballot box ...
     
    let's just help Yelp doesn't contact any of you ... deleting positive reviews because you don't subscribed to their service sounds like extortion to me
     
     
    #10
    lornaschinske
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    Re:The value of food reviews and customer opinions 2010/09/04 23:54:36 (permalink)
    I treat the food reviews like I treat campground reviews. I read all of them to get a general idea of the "tone" of the reviews. I understand that what one person likes or dislikes, may be different for me. I also understand that a glowing review (by a friend or relative?) may be offset by a totally negative review (competitor or disgruntled ex-employee?). the campground review site that I use allows me to look at other posts by the same reviewer.  This is good in that I can see if this person hates everything (or vice versa) or gives a honest review of other places.  I've not used the above mentioned review sites.  It would be helpful if those sites also allowed you to see the reviewers other reviews. Unfortunately, not everyone is like that.  I believe that word-of-mouth , not something posted on a internet website or in a magazine/newspaper, it the safest choice.
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    boyardee65
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    Re:The value of food reviews and customer opinions 2010/09/05 04:26:55 (permalink)
      As a recent ex employee for a well reviewed restaurant I would agree that some disgruntled employees would post bad reviews just to piss off the old work place. This however, is not my style. I would still recommend the restaurant based on their overall reputation and other reviews. My opinion as a cook should carry some weight but I can not say what goes on when I am not there. I always tell people to come in when I am working and I will make sure that the food that goes out of my kitchen is the best that it can be. I really care about quality and doing a great job. It doesn't matter who I work for, I will always strive to put out the best plate possible.
     
      Reviews are "opinions" and only that. They are very subjective. I would look at the overall satisfaction rate of all of the reviewers before making any judgment. That is why I like this site so much. There are several thousand reviewers here and all of us have different likes and dislikes but most of us know good value, service, food, atmosphere when we see or experience it. The only other reviews I look at are in my local papers.
     
      David O.
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    Mamie
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    Re:The value of food reviews and customer opinions 2010/09/05 09:54:24 (permalink)
    As a recent ex employee for a well reviewed restaurant I would agree that some disgruntled employees would post bad reviews just to piss off the old work place.  This however, is not my style.

    you leaving a bad review for being treated badly didn't even cross my mind, it's not my style either.    My Mama and Daddy taught me to 'give 'em enough rope to hang themselves' ....  I never knew of either one of them to do anything vindictive even though they were used and abused by others.
     
    I didn't know people actually read reviews in the paper anymore.   One of the things that aggravates me about reading reviews is all the complaints about having to wait for food ... if they want their food fast, they should go through a drive-thru ... if it takes me 30 minutes to prepare a dish at home,  I shouldn't expect them to do
    it in 10 mins.
     
     
    I really care about quality and doing a great job. It doesn't matter who I work for

    same here ... I took my work personal and worked in a hostile environment (a bank), but I would always remind myself that I was "working unto the Lord, and not men"
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    bartl
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    Re:The value of food reviews and customer opinions 2010/09/05 14:21:57 (permalink)
    chewingthefat I was told yesterday by a source that should know, that Yelp contacts a restaurant within 30 days of positive reviews offering services for a fee, non subscribers see their positive reviews disappear.

    That has not happened to any of several businesses where I know the owners.
     
    Bart
    post edited by bartl - 2010/09/05 14:23:36
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    DantesRedHot
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    Re:The value of food reviews and customer opinions 2010/09/30 20:30:36 (permalink)
    It has happened to me. I received a letter in the mail from Yelp along with stickers for my door that said "People on YELP love us" I did not put them up.
     
     
     
    I currently have a 4 star rating on Yelp with 15 reviews but I have 6 filtered 5 star reviews. I hate filtered reviews, I feel it gives the perception that I am writing them. I am all about karma and positive energy, the last thing I would do was write a review for myself or a negative review about a competitor.
     I don't think the reviews have anything to do with not advertising with them, I know they discredit and remove reviews if you don't have a photo or you only write 1 reviews.
    post edited by DantesRedHot - 2010/09/30 21:11:14
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    gabagool
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    Re:The value of food reviews and customer opinions 2010/10/02 10:34:53 (permalink)
    I think the internet has changed EVERYTHING when it comes to reviews.  An old saying was that a customer tells ten friends about his experience.  Now, its a ton more than that.
     
    In the next ten years I think you are gonna see BIG time litigation stemming from sites like Yelp.  I think, potentially, a site like that can be used to DESTROY someones business IF the poster is so inclined.  Some sort of agreement will have to be reached.
     
    And I know that yelp tries to combat this, but there are a ton of owner and employee or friend generated 4 and 5 stars.  A ton.  When the "best of" used to come out in print only, I 've worked places where the whole floor staff sat around between lunch and dinner and filled in the name of the restaurant where they worked.......at the owners request!!!
     
     
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    Mamie
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    Re:The value of food reviews and customer opinions 2010/10/02 11:17:09 (permalink)
     
    that's a cheap way to beat the competition ... I know the good reviews that the restaurant that I worked got, were submitted by the owner - the "best hamburger" in town, country cooking and friendly staff. 
     
    I know a friend of mine went to a couple of restaurants were a roach ran across the table ... he got up and left - that I know of he didn't do a review of these places, but he vowed never to go back and when I was going to a baby shower there he told me what happened.  The food wasn't good at all, I didn't enjoy it even though I didn't see any roaches - it had no flavor.
     
    the thing is,  there are liars and thieves - and when somebody bears false witness against your good name, that is  theft because they have stolen something from you. 
     
     
     
     
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    BillyB
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    Re:The value of food reviews and customer opinions 2010/10/02 11:41:43 (permalink)
    The idea of pumping up your own restaurant is fine, you still have to back it up when the people come. You can only fool people once, then the reviews will start turning the other way. If you look close enough, you should be able to smell bu-lsh-t before you step in it...........Bill
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    chewingthefat
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    Re:The value of food reviews and customer opinions 2010/10/02 12:19:35 (permalink)
    I've had reviews on Yelp that I know the person wasn't ever here. One jerk talked about the pink pig outside, I don't have one. Another about the greasy pulled pork, which I don't, tell me how to make "greasy" pulled pork, I know how to make dry PP but greasy?
    Yelp can KMA.
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    Mamie
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    Re:The value of food reviews and customer opinions 2010/10/02 14:17:18 (permalink)
    the way things keep going, I don't think  I'll get a restaurant ...
     
    the "pink pig"  would send up red flags if you don't have one.  Does anybody have a pink pig?  like my mother use to say,  "right pew, wrong church"
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    BillyB
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    Re:The value of food reviews and customer opinions 2010/10/02 14:35:25 (permalink)
    I have a 3 foot pig holding a menu board, it was pink until one of my employees cleaned it with degreaser, now its a white pig holding a menu board.....................CTF,I'm not coming to your restaurant until I see a pink pig in front.......................Bill
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    chewingthefat
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    Re:The value of food reviews and customer opinions 2010/10/02 15:08:37 (permalink)
    BillyB

    I have a 3 foot pig holding a menu board, it was pink until one of my employees cleaned it with degreaser, now its a white pig holding a menu board.....................CTF,I'm not coming to your restaurant until I see a pink pig in front.......................Bill


    If i had one that didn't weigh at least a ton, it would get stolen!
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    mayor al
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    Re:The value of food reviews and customer opinions 2010/10/02 20:20:27 (permalink)
    A couple of years back there was a small BBQ shack about 20 miles from here. It lasted less than a year and closed up. They had/have a large (3 ft tall) Pink Pig (standing pose) in front of the entrance. The place was cleaned out and the pig remains. No other buildings within 150 ft any direction.  I want the pig, but see the large chain and lock linking it to the porch of the building. I'd even buy the damn thing just for fun.   but no record of who or what group owns it now.
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    Foodbme
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    Re:The value of food reviews and customer opinions 2010/10/04 03:43:33 (permalink)
    josephmartins
    Our best bet, in my opinion, is to serve customers as best we can and nurture long-lasting relationships. Satisfied customers become champions online and their voices drown out the nay-sayers.

    You just answered your own question! You can only control what you and your employees can control. You can't control what others say or do. Just focus on serving good food at a reasonable price with great service and you'll do just fine.   
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    courtneybranton
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    Re:The value of food reviews and customer opinions 2013/11/07 02:59:08 (permalink)
    Stephen Rushmore Jr.
    Another problem with those review sites (versus a site like Roadfood) is that personal personal preferences can impact the score.

     
    Quite right. I guess it applies to all sort of reviews. There is always that factor of personal preference. However, the observation of how the place looks like or if they notice oddities saves interested people a lot of time and energy.
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