What store do you set by anonymous online reviews? Research from an American university would suggest quite a lot: it recently revealed the terrifying importance customers attach to a restaurant’s status on Yelp. A mere half-star difference in ratings resulted in a considerable jump or plummet in business (interesting given the site rounds a 3.74 down to three and a half stars, and awards four stars to a 3.75).
All the more incentive, you might say, for restaurateurs to try harder. Except that by their nature, the anonymity of online reviews means these sites are ridden with problems. London Eating now suffers for its former success. Seen as influential, it’s so awash with shills, PRs and those with other vested interests that, apart from its page of new restaurant openings, I stopped using it years ago. Harden’s and Zagat are somewhat better: they benefit from editors who scrutinise individual contributors. The Good Food Guide, the latest edition of which came out this week, uses professional – at any rate, paid – critics and is fairly reliable.
Little wonder, then, that many restaurants – such as Hawksmoor – email customers directly to ask them how their meal went, or that two companies have signed a partnership to help restaurants monitor feedback more closely. The system lets the restaurants know what the customers ate, where they were sitting and who served them – this is presumably more useful and easier to correct than “FoieGrasLover452″ having a public tantrum about not being greeted with sufficient deference.