Reviewing the reviewers

My friend, Jim, loves reading one star reviews on Yelp.  And truly, the way he tells it, they do have a spectacular amusement value.  Frex, he told us about a review of Frontera Grill that marked the restaurant down because the bartender at this famously busy restaurant wasn’t chatty in spite of the fact that (are you ready?) the reviewer considers her/himself and his dining companion witty and engaging.

Dude, if you have to tell people you’re witty and engaging, you’re not.  It’s just that simple.

I couldn’t find that review, but I found a lot of other ones that filled me with the kind of schadenfreude reserved for the whining complaints of idiots.  There was the one guy who complained about hating mole.  To which I am tempted to respond: Which of the dozens of types of mole do you not like?  They’re not all chocolate, y’know.  (Why yes, I’m easily amused by this kind of thing.)  Then there are the people who are obsessed with Rick Bayless.  I lost count of the reviews, both good and bad, which mentioned him by name from the people who say things like “Rick Bayless is a god” to the guy who actually gave the restaurant one star because in spite of a good dinner he was disappointed by his interaction with Bayless.  No, I’m not kidding. Apparently Bayless didn’t want to be his BFF.

And then, predictably, there were the ones complaining about the service.  I realize that everyone’s experience is going to be different in any given restaurant on any given day, but if you read a review that complains about service, and then find that the person’s other reviews are similarly whiny… well I leave it to you to decide what the problem really is.  See, I tend to believe you pretty much get out of people what you put into them.  (Oh stop giggling, you know what I mean.)  I am unfailingly polite to servers and when they come to the table at the start of the meal, I always look directly at them when they greet me with the standard  “How are you doing tonight?” question and reply “Good, thanks.  And how are you doing?”   I don’t demand anything, I always request, and I always say “please” and “thank you.”  Usually that gets a big smile and some damn good service.  If the opportunity arises, I’ll engage the server in a short chat about the food.  Usually the result is at least informative and often it’s a chance to connect.  But I never take it amiss if the server is too busy to chat so long as they’re polite about it.  So to the people who cannot seem to get the kind of fawning service they seem to expect I say this:  If most of your life’s interactions are disappointing or confrontational or problematic in some other way, I’m gonna take a wild guess and say that you’re the problem, not everyone else on the planet.  (Granted, I can get along with almost anyone, but I suppose this is the point where I should add “I rest my case.”)

And then there are the people who complain about the food.  Again I say that yeah, any restaurant can have a bad day, or produce a shitty recipe or even just serve something which sounds great but isn’t what you hoped it would be.  And if the food is bad, it’s bad and it’s up to a reviewer to say as much.  But do yourself a favor when you’re reviewing and don’t write things like “It’s better at Chili’s” because unless you’re reviewing Mickey D’s you make yourself look like an idiot with no taste buds.

Amazon.com’s reviews often have a sky-high amusement value because, unlike Yelp, you can comment on someone’s review.  And then the fur can fly!  I’ve read some hilarious comment fights there, and it’s reconfirmed my belief that authors should never answer bad reviews except to correct factual errors.  No matter how smart or clever or good at communicating you think you are, you’ll always end up looking like a jerk if you take exception to a reviewer’s opinion.

If you’re going to read reviews — and I think you should before committing to a purchase or a visit to some business or other — remember one thing:  Nothing is so good that someone won’t hate it, or so bad that someone won’t love it.  Don’t just read the good ones or the bad ones.  Look for trends; frex if the majority of reviews both pro and con mention that one thing in particular was poor, then that thing is almost certainly poor.  If everyone recommends a particular dish, try it.  And if there’s one good review in a raft of bad ones or one bad one in a raft of good ones, check the odd man out.  Chances are he’s a shill, and won’t have many other reviews.

Online reviews can be really helpful.  And even when they’re not, they can be a lot of fun.

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