Dissecting online reviews

by Caitlin Hart

One commenter praises the bar’s beer selection and another critiques the so-called frosty service. Whereas I sit here at my computer thinking about how its is my favourite spot and can’t believe anyone could think otherwise.

Welcome to the world of online restaurant reviews. As an avid Urbanspoon reader I have seen countless reviews from raving to swearing to never return again and everything in between. The key when reading reviews is to apply your inner critic to the critique. Make sense? Allow me to elaborate.

The first thing I consider when looking at a review is, of course, the overall rating. Was it good? Amazing? Terrible? Then I dig deeper, why was the restaurant given that review. For me the reason is crucial. Look for common threads. If only one person complains about the service out of 50 reviews then it’s possible that that person either went on a bad day or is just never pleased with service. However, if many people complain about the service there’s a chance that this might be a place to avoid.  The same goes for any other complaint or compliment: the more there are, the more you should take it seriously.

Dissecting online reviews (1)
Online reviews can be as difficult to analyze as last week’s philosophy reading

After taking this into account continue to use your inner sleuth and look at the dates of the reviews. You want to pay the most attention to the recent reviews. Bad reviews from years ago may not be relevant anymore due to change in staff, ownership and the list goes on.

The next step in the investigation is location, location, location. Through my years of looking up online reviews I have noticed that bigger cities are typically harsher critics than smaller cities. From living in both Ottawa and near Toronto I notice that the Toronto critics are harder to please. Part of this is due to variety. Toronto is a larger city and therefore has more restaurants to choose from. Ottawa is a smaller city and has fewer restaurants. How does this affect reviews? It can sometimes mean that a good restaurant in Ottawa is only an okay restaurant in Toronto. However, there are always outliers. I had great luck when I went to a sushi place in Stratford, Ontario (home to just 30,886) that had amazing ratings. The sushi matched the ratings to say the least. But nonetheless keep in mind that a restaurant might get a high rating simply because it’s the best that that city has to offer.

Once you have completed all the detective work it’s time to go into the field and see if your guess was right. It might not be, but there’s a good chance that you might find a delicious meal.