Before embarking on a road trip, I spend considerable time figuring out all the places where I’m going to eat and drink. That research usually begins with a perusal of online reviews, principally on Yelp and Trip Advisor.
What I’m looking for at this stage is a general sense of what’s worthy of my cheap-eats attention. It’s mostly a process of elimination, winnowing out hundreds of contenders and ending up with a short list that may require further research elsewhere.
The question, of course, is how much can you trust the online reviews of a huge swath of customers—some of whom may have an axe to grind or, at least, have very different tastes/standards than you.
All of which makes a recent New York Times article, Why You Can’t Really Trust Negative Online Reviews, so intriguing. The tagline gets right to the point: “Research suggests that people heed negative reviews more than positive ones—despite their questionable credibility.”
Despite being in the minority, negative reviews carry more weight than positive ones, perhaps because of their relative scarcity. They’re also seen as more trustworthy because the reviewers are willing to point out flaws, even if they’re just in the eye of the beholder.
The story goes on in more detail about why you shouldn’t take negative reviews to heart, and it’s well worth reading. Although not about restaurant reviews per se, the article got me thinking about how I react to both negative and positive reviews.
I admit my eye is drawn to one-star reviews, just to see how bad things were for that diner. And if I see a lot of one- or two-star ratings, I’m apt to move on to greener pastures.
But it’s quite common to see a one-star “worst place I’ve ever eaten” right next to a five-star rave about the “best meal I’ve ever had.” Which can make it quite frustrating to figure out who’s right.
What I now do is look for places that have a high percentage of four-star reviews, on the theory that if most people had a great meal/time, it’s probably a true representation. It also reduces the impact of the one-star complainers and the five-star ravers, some of whom may have ulterior motives.