Can You Believe Food Reviews?

Private Property South Africa
Shaun Wewege

The Internet and World Wide Web have opened up an endless stream of digital possibilities and introduced us to content we never thought possible. Pictures of cute kittens with quirky captions. Silly teens hurting themselves on skateboards. Terrible singers uploading videos for all to see, only to be ruthlessly mocked. People, who we assume are fuelled by vodka, doing strange things such as jumping off a diving board (while wearing a Mankini) into a swimming pool that is frozen over. The web offers so much.

Of course, much of it we shouldn’t take seriously. But it is a useful tool for gathering information that helps us make decisions. One example is restaurant reviews. There are endless food blogs and forums where we can find a mix of professional and user generated reviews. The problem is how much of it do we take seriously?

I’ve recently noticed a trend on forums where users publish their own restaurant reviews. A person, let's call her Jane, writes a scathing post about a restaurant. The waiter was about as attentive three year old after eating a kilogram of sugar, the drinks were warm, the food was cold and even Donald Trump would say, "This place is expensive." A short while later, another review appears. But this one, from Tom, has nothing but praise. The waiters are friendly but not overbearing, the food is cooked to perfection, the wine list is extensive and at these prices, you could feed an Nkandla sized family every day.

Who do we believe? How do we know that Tom isn't the owner of the eatery and is trying to counter a bad review? How do we know Jane isn't from a nearby competitor and is being malicious? People also tend to complain before they praise, so most consumer forums will be skewed in a sense that most of the reviews will be complaints. There may be hundreds of happy customers, but only the handful of unhappy ones feel the need to make a noise. Before searching the reviews you may have felt like you had no information to go on, after reading them you might feel overwhelmed.

There are no hard and fast rules to judging reviews but as a rule, if a user-written review reads along the lines of, “da food cld nt hve been mor awsum!!!!!” I assume the writer was an idiot and avoid the restaurant. They might serve fantastic cuisine but they clearly attract morons for patrons and if I wanted to spend time with people I dislike intensely, I’d visit the E-Toll offices.

I’ve found that word of mouth still works best. One way or another, your colleagues, friends or family will let you know whether it’s worth your while leaving the house to eat at a restaurant. For example, we have a well travelled friend whose dined at some of the finest restaurants in the world. If he reckons a certain restaurant is worth visiting, we take note. Then we have a friend who considers sitting down at the local Steers or KFC “a night out.” His drink of choice generally comes from a box. If he ever makes culinary suggestions we do the opposite.

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