Why I Think We Shouldn't Write Bad Restaurant Reviews

Overheard from a resto owner: “Who are these food bloggers, what gives them right to say our food is bad?”

Overheard from a blog reader: “Most of his / her reviews are praises, he / she must be paid to do it.”

Should I be offended? Well no, because I did write bad reviews before, so that sort of freed me from being in the group they are talking about. However, I feel I have to share my two cents on why we shouldn’t write bad restaurant reviews or at least have the courtesy of toning it down. Why, you ask? Well, if they are so bad and not worth reviewing, why bother writing and waste your time? To add though, no good can ever come from doing a bad review.

Bloggers, put yourself in the shoe of restaurant owners.

You’ve invested a good amount of your savings, months of work, insurmountable headaches and energy into making it work. Hopes are high, this might be your last resort of ever succeeding in something. At this point, the restaurant is almost like a baby to you. Now, how would you react if someone badmouthed your baby? Yep. I would most probably go berserk too.

With that in mind, I respect the select few of restaurants that openly accept constructive feedback and even actively respond to it. But most importantly, having a friend who happens to be a restaurant owner that went through the whole drama of negative reviews and being a business owner myself, I can really empathize.

Do you know how many things could go wrong in one plate of meal?

Finding a good supplier that can deliver consistently good products is a pain in the ass. I kept hearing this again and again from friends in the industry. The problem is ingredients are bound to many variables: weather, season, plague, etc. In a year, it is very likely that you’ll have one of those days that come with lower quality produce. Not bad, but not excellent. Still, you gotta live with that, the show must go on.

That’s only a start. Then comes the most critical part of the equation, the chef. Count your days in a year. Do you always wake up fresh and happy and lively? Nope. There’ll be tough times. Everyone has their own struggle. Could it be that the day your Eggs Benedict is slightly overcooked or a bit on the salty end is the day that the chef is going through a difficult time personally? Could it be that you, requiring 10 minutes to snap that perfect Instagram picture, end up ruining the food? I have to stress this point. There have been a few real-life stories from restaurant owners about notorious people who take forever to snap a pic and even have the guts to complain afterwards. Dude, you’re crossing the line there. I can only say, karma’s a bitch. Good luck.

By the way, overseas, the acceptable rule of thumb is to come back a few times before writing a review. I couldn’t agree more, it is only fair that you try as many dishes as possible before making your judgement. If you can do so in one visit, then it is okay. However, by that standard alone, I think more than half of what I wrote don’t pass the bar. But then again, what defines a food critic abroad is definitely different from what a food blogger does here in Indonesia. (We’ll touch more on this topic later)

Write better

There’s more than one way to convey your unsatisfactory experience. The best one is to be constructive and know your topic. Instead of labeling something as not delicious, try this:

– I prefer to have it … instead of …
– I would have come back for it if only …
– It does not fit my palate who tends to enjoy …

Do research on the food that you had. There’s nothing that Google can’t answer these days. Could it be that you only dislike a particular ingredient, not the whole dish? Could it be that it’s the way it should taste originally?

Now restaurants, put yourself in the shoe of bloggers

Yes, most of the bloggers have no culinary background. I don’t think any of them claims to be an expert anyway. Here’s a thought, are most of your customers experts too? I have a feeling that the answer is no. A restaurant will aim to serve as many ‘common’ tongue as possible. But you know as well as I do, you can’t please everyone.

Here’s a definition of a blog by Merriam-Webster Dictionary.

Blog (n.) : a Web site on which someone writes about personal opinions, activities, and experiences

A blog is never meant to be more than a reflection of a person’s taste. A common person with a ‘common’ tongue. That means bloggers are your customers too. You should hear them. Let me repeat so that you don’t miss it. Listen to them. A good friend of mine who comes from a hospitality background said “Restaurant business is about making people happy with food as the medium.” Your response matters and just by listening first without being defensive is more than enough in most cases. Remember the last time you went to a friend’s place, they cook for you and because of their hospitality, you just couldn’t get it out that their food is just okay? That.

Food Critic vs Food Bloggers

If you say that bloggers don’t come from culinary background, it is true. They mostly are not. The problem is two fold.

First, correct me if I’m wrong, but out of so many invitations that your marketing team send out, what’s in their head? Educating the customer about your food or simply wanting free exposure? How many times out of so many invitation that you sit down and go through each dish together? How knowledgeable are your waiters that they are qualified to give your customers a recommendation on what to eat? Chefs and restaurateurs, do you ever care to teach these bloggers the culinary basics that you complain that they don’t have? I’d be more than happy to arrange that shall any of you is interested.

Second, what is called food critic abroad is entirely different from food blogger here. There, the industry is so well developed that the role of food critic exists and paid by a third party to be objective. They are funded to visit a restaurant a couple times before putting the comment on writing. Here, the bloggers are spending their own money. Are you expecting them to go back three times to your expensive restaurant just to write one single 400 word article that has no particular benefit for them? Would you yourself have the money, time and effort to do so out of your own expense? Nope, they are like most of your customers. They come once to try and if it doesn’t live up to their expectation, most likely they’re not coming back. But if you’re good, they’ll most definitely return.

Third, yes an additional fact to stress on my point. Go to review sites like Open Rice, Trip Advisor, Zomato, Qraved, or plenty other. There are people reviewing restaurants too. Normal customer. I bet there are more bad reviews there than the bloggers write. What do you do with them? One person might be wrong, how about ten people all having bad experience?

The Resolve

As I reflect on all that, I come to the decision that it is not ethically right, at least in Indonesia, to bash a restaurant even though it wasn’t a special experience. Now, I can tolerate the occasional case when a meal is more on the salty side. I can tolerate that the food takes a bit longer than usual because the restaurant is packed. I can accept that out of 40+ menu, maybe I happen to choose the wrong one.

I still can’t accept though, if a restaurant fails to deliver the most basic meal, especially a meal that I’ve tasted over and over again, or a meal from my mother tongue because I know how it is supposed to taste. But again, I’m now able to sort my thoughts better and realize that my readers are smart enough to read through my writings.

On the other side of the coin, I keep myself surrounded by friends in the field who can teach me to be better on the topic of food and culinary. I’m progressing slowly, but I’m getting better (hopefully).

Summing Up

Here’s a clue for you readers. Read, don’t just skim through the photos. I believe you can read a blogger’s excitement through the words when the food is that good. When you see a blogger busy talking about the ambience instead of the food, then you can read between the lines. So let’s be wiser bloggers, smarter readers, and better restaurateurs. The industry is rising, if we want to grow, then let’s level up together.

It’s better to light the candle than curse the darkness.

Oh by the way, the closest culinary background I have is a three month free online Gastronomy course on Coursera, and hopefully I don’t need a four-year culinary degree to justify me writing this article.

To infini-food and beyond,

My Instagram: @captainruby

Written By

Fellexandro Ruby

Food photographer, and story teller sharing his passion in food, travel, culinary hits and highlights. Always on the mission to make you drool. Founder of Wanderbites.com

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  • I totally share your thoughts Rub…Our experiences and tastes are subjective: what’s trash to one might be a treasure for others, right? I personally believe in sharing the unpleasant feedback directly with the relevant parties, rather than telling the world about it. Hence the lack of negative remarks on my own blog. Cheers! =)

    • Well said El. I do the same too. That’s why I prefer restaurants that genuinely want to build relationship instead of treating bloggers as one time promotion tool. That’s where both can together grow. Thanks for dropping your comment El. Happy to know you share the same wavelength.

  • Well said rub! Great one! Me myself also has been treating the blog post as my personal taste preference and even I put a disclaimer that all the experience are based on my date of visit which can be changed instantly anytime. And when it comes to something that unpleasant me, i will try to toning it down in several ways.

    And yeap have to admit that most of the old articles are straight to the point whether it was good or bad hahaha, guess we all are learning by doing =p

  • Dude, I rate your blog 3/10 for the content and 8/10 for the design :p Just kidding 🙂

    Just another perspective that blogger should consider before writing a bad review, is to think about the employee/staff that works there.

    Imagine you’re a food blogger with thousands of people who actually believe what you said when you say “Restaurant A is so B-A-D”. The worst thing that could ever happen is people stop/wont be coming to Restaurant A and forced the restaurant to close.

    So, before you type in those negative review, just have a think about the lives of the employee who are dependant on the venue and the fact that your comment/review can/may determine their lives.

    • Hahaha. I see what you did there. I couldn’t agree more, Joseph. You got a strong point there. We need to think further of the consequences not just whether a blogpost is going to get good readership or not.

  • Agree to disagree.

    I think food blogger should give honest review without trying to be subtle. I personally enjoyed reading it more so we as a reader know what food to order. And I think restaurant owner should know that when they entered this business there’s always pros and cons.

    “Are you expecting them to go back three times to your expensive restaurant just to write one single 400 word article that have no particular benefit for them?”
    Thats exactly my point why dont a food blogger just wrote what they feel about the experience? As a food blogger you can write a positive and negative about one place, its not about being cruel. Thats what call a review.

    • Hi Gun,

      Thank you for your honest comment. I agree with you about writing the experience as it is. I just don’t think the industry in Indonesia is ready.

      Restaurant will say that the blogger have no culinary background to justify the negative review.
      Bloggers will say that they are only writing from their personal point of view.
      Readers will take what the bloggers say without considering the fact that taste is personal and that there’s X factor. Example: What doesn’t suit the blogger, might suit their palate. Could it be that the blogger only taste 1 out of 40 menu and he just got unlucky.

      I hope its not that far future that restaurant can be mature about negative review, bloggers can write bluntly, and readers will read an article thoroughly.

  • well said. I think you capture on both sides (restaurant owner and blogger). Especially the part where an invitation from a resto, the food is top notch yet the service is bad or even the waiter just do not know that in fact, there’s a gathering. It will give high effect to the customer/guests experience too. Really love your post,detailed and very informative 🙂

  • Well said! I occasionally write a review in Zomato. And I always try to toning down some words everytime I stumbled to a bad restaurant. And yes, I totally agree that the taste is subjective to our personal taste, that’s why I always try to read between the line whether the restaurant is well known for the affordable price, the ambiance or the exquisite taste.

    • Hi Indie Coffee Blog, thank you for writing down your thoughts. I agree with you. If every reviews are praise, then readers would assume it is paid. That’s exactly why I wrote that we should tone down the bad reviews, that means yes, we still say its bad but in a civilized way, and it doesn’t mean we only write praise reviews.

  • Hit the nail down there, my friend.

    Working in industry such as mine, opened my eyes on both perspective (in this case, clients and bloggers). What we believe is, when the food is good – you praise it, when thing’s gone bad – put constructive feedback and if-only (if only they go easy on the salt a bit, this will be the better XXX food out there). Because like you just said, maybe the chef forgot his morning coffee (we all know, how disastrous that can be).

    Well said.

  • Hey Ruby, i stumbled upon this article. Very well said. Sometimes we underthink our relationship with the food. Either overly documenting our dinner or completely disregard the reflection of eating as an experience itself.
    I personally love to read a blog because it gives an honest review as it comes from “Real” people. Then again these people may have different taste and point of views.

    I always believe, although generally food blog nowadays mostly filled with pretty pictures, doing review in blogging, just like any other sort of writing, should have been written in points of statement with reasons that readers can pull the bottom line from.

  • Love! Love! Love this. It’s so insightful and now I need to be a lot careful when reading food blogs and such. Thanks, Rub. It’s also inspired me to write something else. You’re awesome!

  • Sorry. Totally disagree. If you refuse to write that you don’t like something when you actually didn’t like it… That is, you omit any sense of negativity, you lie through omitting the truth. If something really is bad and you write something different, I think that’s unethical.

    Sure, that place is someone’s baby. But what is the point of reviewing places if you can’t be absolutely honest? It gets to the heart of trustworthiness. Time after time I read reviews of restaurants that say nice things when the reality is they’re not that good. Many of those bloggers I simply don’t trust anymore.

    Having said that, we bloggers have a responsibility to no one. But we will be judged by our actions and if we’re not being totally honest, we won’t be taken seriously.

    • Hi Adam,

      I agree with you. We should not omit the truth & it is what gets our blog trusted and what keeps them coming back. That being said, I never said we should all twist the negative into positive. If you read carefully through my writings you’d find that:

      1. Although the title is suggesting to not write bad review, I wrote that instead of writing purely bad review (as in bashing a restaurant) we should write constructive review. It will still say the truth but in a civilized and constructive ways for both party. And this is what I do.

      2. I also wrote that I can tolerate the minor mistakes but would still be hard on things that I’m very familiar with. A pasta is not al dente? Yes, I’d complain. A pasta is a bit on the saltier side? Hey, that might be a matter preference.

      3. Actually there are too many good food places to review that I just don’t see the point of sharing the bad ones.

  • Ruby, came across this post few weeks back but finally had time to skim through everything you had to say. In my opinion, these are spot on. I especially like one of your comments
    there are too many good food places to review that you just don’t see the point of sharing the bad ones.”

    I am also with you on frequenting the place several times before we could actually review. That’s what I do. Me and my newly started blog. I learn a thing or two today just by reading this.

    Well-conveyed, dude!

  • kalau saya menulis pengalaman buruk saya (makan di suatu restoran) di social media
    dengan tujuan memberi “warning” agar teman-teman saya berhati-hati jika ingin makan di restoran itu

    • Hi Alex, boleh banget. If you read carefully, what I meant was we shouldn’t write bad reviews, we should write ‘constructive’ reviews instead. Daripada “makanannya ga enak” lebih baik “makanannya bisa lebih oke kalau …”. Jadi tulisan harus give value, ga sekedar positif atau negatif.

  • Bukan hanya tidak boleh sekedar mengatakan tidak enak. mungkin lebih tepatnya tidak boleh berbicara tanpa pertanggung jawaban. Food Blogger yang baik mengerti apa yang ia makan dan mengerti kenapa ia bilang masakan tersebut tidak enak.

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