Amateur reviewers – Parasites or Propagators

Hello Poncentricsters. This is my June Column for Ponsonby News. I hope you enjoy reading it.

I am a serial reviewer of cafés and restaurants. Trip Advisor, Yelp, Zomato, Urbanspoon, Menus. You name them, I’ve posted reviews on them.

So I noted with some interest a number of articles and stories recently about the role of “amateur” restaurant reviewers. Yes that’s me, and anyone else who has dared to post a review online!

My columnist colleague Lauraine Jacobs got the ball rolling when she declined an invitation to speak at an event organised by online review site Zomato.

In an article by Simon Plumb in the Herald on Sunday titled ‘When it comes to reviews, the ability to eat is not enough’ Lauraine is quoted as saying “In all conscience I cannot attend as I do not agree with commercial sites like [Zomato] that rely on unqualified and unpaid restaurant reviewers.” Oops that’s me she’s talking about!

I wouldn’t say the article, and Lauraine’s reported comments, got my hackles up, but it did pique my interest and get me thinking about the roles and responsibilities around reviewing eateries in particular.

Well it wasn’t long before the subject erupted in the media again when Mt Eden restaurant Molten hit back at a group of disgruntled diners who had given Molten a very low rating.

Molten owner Sven Nielsen labeled the review “unfair, unjust and a little bit vindictive” and responded to the disgruntled group with a vehement review of their own suggesting that the diners were “rather rude to the people that worked at our restaurant”.

As if the Molten meltdown was not enough, lo and behold the next day Jonny Rudduck from favoured Ponsonby eatery Il Buco chucked a hot chilli into the pot. He said we were parasites. Ouch!  Well actually that comment might have been directed at the review site but ouch anyway.

The New Zealand Herald joined in the act by running a poll in which it asked readers “Should restaurants have the right to fight back to online reviews?” Over 5,000 readers responded with a resounding 91% yes. Of course they should.

And just when I thought the matter was at an end Wellington’s Ekim Burger owner Mike Duffy as reported by Stuff’s Robert Kitchin “sparked a social media uproar with a vitriolic rant on the Wellington business’ Facebook page after a customer accused the burger bar of giving her son food poisoning”. A complete over reaction by Mike Duffy? I would have thought so.

But wait there’s more.

No sooner had we digested Mike Duffy’s burger bomb then respected reviewer Peter Calder joined the fray. Actually I think the burger bomb was more a case of indigestion! Anyway the Herald’s Calder, in a thoughtful story headlined “Waiter, these ‘parasites’ [are] not to my liking”, conducted a sympathetic symphony of support for restaurants in which he said it was “easy to feel for restaurants angered by bad reviews written by ill-informed diners in the safety of cyberspace”. Ouch again.

So what are we to make of all this?

Well to re-cap. Lauraine Jacobs suggested that ‘When it comes to reviews, the ability to eat is not enough’ and “I do not agree with commercial sites like [Zomato] that rely on unqualified and unpaid restaurant reviewers”.

Molten’s Sven Nielsen labeled a review “unfair, unjust and a little bit vindictive” and hit back with a stinging review of the disgruntled group.

Jonny Rudduck of Il Buco fame suggested “angry diners should boycott, not rant online”.

Ekim Burgers’ Mike Duffy had a death wish. Enough said.

And Peter Calder concluded by saying “it takes a good deal more curiosity and persistence than most casual browsers and surfers employ to separate the wheat from the chaff”. Fair point. Sort of.

Well I may well be an “unqualified” restaurant reviewer and I’m certainly unpaid but we amateurs have a role to play and are entitled to our (reasonable) opinion and to express it responsibly.

So how are we doing? Out of interest I checked on Zomato what customers are saying about Molten. Still averaging 4 out of 5. More interesting is Trip Advisor where 77 reviews yielded 82% excellent or very good and 1 terrible.

Interesting that the legendary Prego scores 4.3 out of 5 on Zomato and 245 reviews on Trip Advisor produce a score of 4.5, an 86% excellent or very good rating and there were 3 terribles. Quelle horreur!

So I checked out the big daddy of them all, The French Café, and found a Zomato rating of an excellent 4.7 and a Trip Advisor score of 4.5, with a 93.4% excellent or very good rating and 6 terribles. Sacre bleu!

My point?

You can’t please all of the punters all of the time. Not very original I know – but true nonetheless. Once in a while even the best are going to get it wrong. C’est la vie.

And negative reviews? See them in context; they represent less than 5% of opinion!

So what are the “professionals” getting all hot and bothered about? Beats me! But one things for sure, we “amateur” reviewers are here to stay.

Bon appetit. And by the way you can check out what Poncentric is up to at www.poncentric.com and https://www.facebook.com/poncentric

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