Photo: Urban Mixer, Flickr
Ever since anonymous masses were granted the power to push a "publish" button, there's been debate over the validity of consumer-generated restaurant reviews. Fueling the skeptical fire early this month, Time's NewsFeed blog reported on a restaurant in Chicago that received a poor review on Yelp before the restaurant even opened.
According to Sylvia Rector, a Free Press restaurant critic on Freep.com, people who frequently use these types of sites "develop a critical eye for reviews, factoring in the writer's experience and history." Besides poorly informed bloggers, one should be especially wary of phony reviewers like PR people, competing restaurants and other biased parties. So what should you look for?
"If a restaurant opens and gets three or four glowing reviews the first day," Rector says, "you have to wonder if they were written by the owner's friends and relatives." Also, question reviews that are outdated (restaurants do change), those that are "different from most other comments" or those "with an absence of specifics." You can't drop a bomb without a reason -- if the food was intolerable, why? If a review is particularly out of place, check the poster's profile or other reviews he or she made on the site.