Reviewing Responsibly

What do you do think of when you hear of a new place opening in your area? Do you search them on Facebook? Do you look at reviews on TripAdvisor? Do you wait for your favourite blogger to visit and write an article on their experience? Or are you one of the last people who wait for a newspaper reviewer to publish their write-up?

When was the last time you went to a new restaurant without checking out a few reviews?

In the digital age, anyone with a smartphone and an internet connection has a voice and a platform on which to use this voice. Apps like TripAdvisor and Zomato, and even Facebook, give everyone a platform where they can air their grievances or share their positive experiences. For some people, online reviews are just another way to search for their 15 minutes of fame on the internet, while other people have turned it into a hobby or even a job.

Reviewing apps that put the power in the hands of the consumer have opened up a whole new world for travellers and diners. No longer do you have to hope a journalist writes about the place you want to go, or wonder whether the review is unbiased or if money changed hands in return for a few extra stars. Anyone can instantly share their experiences, which is great! But it’s also not-so-great in some ways.

If you review online, you should strive to be truthful and unbiased in your review. Obviously this will probably never happen for everyone, but keep in mind how your review can influence other people. According to statistics, around 80% of people look up reviews for a restaurant before visiting for the first time. So, what does this have to do with you?

As someone who worked in the restaurant industry for a good few years, I can tell you that online reviews definitely have an impact on many restaurants. Sure, there are some that don’t care what people have to say, but they’re in the minority. Many restaurants care about what their customers have to say and negative reviews can impact them in ways most people don’t even think about. Small businesses are especially affected by reviews, both negative and positive. Positive reviews can help improve their rating and give them more visibility in an ever-increasing market, while negative reviews can bury them.

In some of the places I’ve worked, waitresses and even kitchen staff have been impacted by reviews. Even if you don’t mention your server by name, it’s usually fairly easy to figure out who the server was for a table that left a bad review, and who was working in the kitchen that day. Waitresses can be incentivised and given bonuses or freebies when they get good reviews, but the opposite also rings true, where they lose shifts or are docked pay due to negative reviews.

This doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t leave negative reviews if you had a truly bad experience, but think before you review. Were you in a bad mood when you visited? Did you make changes to the dishes or order off-menu? Are you being unfairly harsh for no reason? If you review a Mexican restaurant, but you hate Mexican food, are you really the best person to tell the world what you thought about their dishes?

Another problem with the online reviewing system is that some immoral people or restaurants can make fake accounts to either boost a certain place’s reviews, or to bombard an establishment they dislike with false negative reviews. There are systems in place to prevent this, and most apps have a “scoring” system where a review from a new account counts less than a review from a trusted reviewer, but the review is still out there for anyone to see, unless the restaurant goes through a strenuous process of reporting the review to eventually get it taken down.

Basically what I’m saying is that not every review can be trusted, and that you should be open to new experiences without letting preconceived notions or expectations cloud your judgment. In a perfect world everyone would be truthful and you’d be able to rely on someone else’s word, but until then, make sure you review responsibly and think before you review.

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