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Questionable eating advice

We live in a small town. Looking out our front windows, we see a highway that crosses the Uintah Mtn Range. Looking out our back windows, the next road across the mountains is 147 miles away, with a 1,000,000 acres wilderness area in the way. Nevertheless, nearly every restaurant in this primitive dump is rated as **** or ***** on TripAdvisor and Yelp. I have news for you: Arby's might be OK but Arby's is not fine dinning.

TripAdvisor rates our local Arby's at 4.5 out 5. The Michelin Red Guide to France rates more than 4,000 restaurants on a scale of 0 to 3, and only 27 of those score the equivalent of a TripAdvisor 4+. Somebody's restaurant advice is very, very wrong, and it is not Michelin

Posted by
9874 posts

Some times you have to grade on the curve, lest the whole class flunks.

Posted by
6553 posts

Perhaps the view that more stars on TripAdvisor indicates "fine" dining, it doesn't, it simply is an indicator of first popularity and then relative service and to a degree, how one liked the food. One can diss Arby's, but they seem to do OK and have lots of customers.

Michelin also has many problems with it's system, a victim of success turned arrogant. To be honest, I do not believe I have ever eaten in a Michelin starred restaurant, and if I run across one, I am more likely to avoid it rather than be attracted.

Tripadvisor and Google can be good indicators of places to check out, but like anything,(including the honored Michelin) should not be your only criteria.

Posted by
7205 posts

And some people think Arby’s is fine dining...

Posted by
6113 posts

TA 5 stars by my understanding has never meant fine dining, it just means people were happy with their service and food etc. Perhaps the reviewers were comparing Arby’s with other branches.

Michelin has different parameters.

The advice isn’t wrong, it’s just judging on different bases.

Posted by
22593 posts

When I apply ratings, it is within the group. For Arby's that would be Wendy, McDonald, Sonic, etc. It would be ridiculous to compare Arby's to a Michelin restaurant in New York or Paris. If that is the basis, an Arby's would never get more than a -1. How could you have a single rating systems that covered every eatery from Joe's hamburger truck to Paris restaurant? Makes no sense. However, if your town had two Arby's and one was rated 2.5 and the other 3.5, I think I know where I might go first. The restaurant advice isn't wrong but how YOU use that advice that could be wrong.

Posted by
7749 posts

You need to consider how easy it is to fake reviews. Especially if you have the motivation of owning or managing a restaurant. For a small town eatery, how many reviews would it take? There is academic research that says the majority of online reviews are fake.

Posted by
9637 posts

Trip Advisor rankings are terrible for my home location. They rank a gelato shop that doesn’t serve anything but gelato as the best restaurant in town!

Posted by
22593 posts

...There is academic research that says the majority of online reviews are fake. ..... That is an easy statement to make and while it may be true, I trust little information like that without a source. I have tried to find the source with various fact checking sites with no luck. Do you know the source? Or are you just repeating what you might have heard?

Posted by
903 posts

I agree that rating systems are based on the niche or genre. Take movies for instance. The ratings are based on those particular types of movies, not all the movies out in any given time. Same with restaurants.

Posted by
7749 posts

EDITED I found my source and have edited this accordingly.

Frank, I am repeating a story I heard on one of the NPR radio shows last year - it was Planet Money fake reviews. It was about a student who was also a bodybuilder. He became interested in online reviews of performance-boosting supplements, being suspicious of frequent repeated positive reviews. He developed a computer-driven algorithm to analyze reviews across products for word cues, timings, and other details I don't recall. He then expanded the research to other online product reviews and repeated his conclusions that a significant percentage of reviews are fake. He created a website tool that can be used to to look at reviews. So this was not published as a peer-reviewed academic study.emphasized text

Posted by
5893 posts

Sounds like you live in Vernal, Utah? Or nearby?

TA reviews reflect, at best, popularity not quality. Most based on a single meal. Undoubtedly on a curve. The ones for places in my town are off the wall, IMO. Quite possibly a lot of fake reviews on TA.

I use TA reviews mostly for hotels/motels, and take them with a large grain of salt. I look at the very negative ones to see whether they reflect a pattern or just very idiosyncratic customers' one-off experiences. I very seldom bother to post one myself.

Posted by
381 posts

Obviously there are loads of people in this world who enjoy and appreciate Arby's for what it is and do not criticize it for what it isn't. These are probably genuine reviews and ratings from the type of people who go to Arby's. That is why you can't go by the number of stars but need to look at the menu and read the comments.

I agree with the person who said there is not necessarily anything wrong with the listing except in how you are looking at it.

Anybody can type any review one wishes for tripadvisor. But, some of the reviews are valid. I find the reviews where a person types in specific pro.s and con.s to be helpful. If a reviewer just types "Awesome, I love it!" - that kind of review is useless. I try to read some of the lesser ranked reviews for balance.

Also, some people are biased. For example - one reviewer might complain that an Italian restaurant is not like an American restaurant and therefore, bad. Whereas, I may read that review and think "That's just the kind of place I'm looking for."

Posted by
3866 posts

I don't trust any Trip Advisor review for anything. The only reason I ever go there is to see if there are additional photos of a lodging I'm considering. Yelp is also way off my radar.

And I'm skeptical of anyone's reviews of or recommendations for restaurants, even those of my best friends. Our tastes are so different. I'm sure they feel the same about mine.

I have also been disappointed by RS and Forum recommendations. I'd bet that only 10% of those I've tried have been worth the time or money, no matter the price. I seem to have better luck walking around near where I'm staying, looking at menus and the people there and choosing on the fly.

My husband has to be absolutely starving to go to any fast food or order-at-the-counter restaurant anywhere. The only local exception to that is one here that makes the best gazpacho we've ever eaten.

Even in the big truck pulling the race trailer, we will go out of our way to find a local, mom & pop kind of place where he can sit down and get table service. I'm not so picky about that, but I'm not the one driving.

Note: Try as I might, I cannot seem to get the same results for the previously mentioned Vernal or Tucson. I'm getting much different results using Trip Advisor, Yelp or my usual generic "restaurants in xxx" Google search. In any case the ratings are clearly based on supposed customer input, i.e. popularity, not on any food critic kind of criteria.

Posted by
5719 posts

I don’t have a problem with the ratings on TripAdvisor for restaurants. If I want to check out options in a town, I’m mainly looking at the photos of dishes that customers have posted. I already know that the ratings are subjective. And, when I occasionally post a review, I’m definitely rating the restaurant within its category of restaurants, so yes, I have given an outstanding gelato shop a top rating.

Posted by
870 posts

I don't have too much faith in the ratings - either the comments or the stars. Mostly use them for info on the menu, prices, photos, etc. especially with foreign restaurants that often don't have websites or English language menus. Kudos those reviewers that post clear photos on the menu, their actual food, etc.

Posted by
1316 posts

When I rate on Trip Advisor, I compare apples to apples. Obviously an Arby’s isn’t white table cloth dining with a wine steward and a chef with a big white hat. But, if it does a good job of being an Arby’s, it’ll get 5 stars from me. Clean? Quick? Hot food? Soda machine works? Plenty of condiments and napkins? Sounds perfect to me when I’m at a fast food restaurant.

Same thing for an airport hotel. Most likely it’s a horrible location to use for a multi day sightseeing trip, but if it does a great job of being an airport hotel, it’ll get 5 stars from me.

I realize this makes sorting hard. If you’re looking for a romantic dinner or getaway with your significant other, you’re not thinking Taco Bell or the airport Marriott. But, if you’re planning a business conference, you probably don’t want an isolated hotel with no WiFi and heart shaped beds either.

I agree about reviewing within categories. That is - good for a low budget: good for fine wines and seafood, etc.. There's nothing wrong with giving a taco place a 5-star rating if it's a great place for tacos.

Posted by
914 posts

I can attest that the Trip Advisor reviews I’ve written are real. What I don’t get (and we’ve all seen this) is someone who rates a hotel or restaurant with four stars and in the written comments bashes and complains. Well, then, it’s not worthy of four stars, is it? Those are the reviews I question.

Posted by
5697 posts

Reminds me of my MIL referring us to "the best French restaurant in Walla Walla" -- it all depands on what you are comparing it TO.

Posted by
857 posts

Ratings don't make sense. Yes, a place may be an Arby's franchise. But what if it is an outstanding Arby's? "Damn that roast beef burger was good, and those fries were just perfect." It does happen. Its rare, but it does happen. Franchises have to work within certain rules, but sometimes they exceed those rules. :)

Posted by
3224 posts

I find the reviews where a person types in specific pro.s and con.s to
be helpful. If a reviewer just types "Awesome, I love it!" - that kind
of review is useless.

Completely agree with this. Restaurants, hotels, even when I was shopping for a new car, I dig deep into the reviews to find those that give me reasons that are important to me.

Posted by
1221 posts

I agree it's about the rating within the category. Within the fast food realm, it's a question of whether the fries and coffee are served appropriately hot, the restrooms and dining area are kept clean, any drive through lanes move at an appropriate pace and not the speed of a DMV line, etc. For the places that go for 50/100/200+ dollars/euros/CFs/pounds, it's an entirely different criteria.

I post reviews on Yelp sometimes. My five star reviews tend to be for places like a favorite strip mall sushi place or a counter service restaurant at the gates of Zion National Park that are just so gosh darn good at knowing what they are and doing that really, really well rather than feeling like modest prices mean the restaurant only has to put modest effort into their product.

Posted by
8814 posts

Lo, totally agree with you. I don’t trust Yelp or TA, and most RS and Forum recs have been disappointing.

Even here in San Francisco, and the SF Bay Area, Yelp and TA are of limited use. In this area it’s all about who eats there and what they’re comparing it to. We always say when reading reviews of places, we’d like to know what that reviewers “base” is... ie, do they think Arby’s is good food and therefore say Joe’s Taco Lounge is awesome? Or do they normally eat at high end restaurants and therefore say Joe’s Taco Lounge was terrible?

Posted by
373 posts

in my opinion, 5 stars for an Arby's means it's a good Arby's. You have to know whether you like Arby's or not. It frequently happens that a top-ranked restaurant in a town in an ice cream shop or a bakery. Only you can know if you want to go to an ice cream shop or a bakery, but if it has hundreds of 5 star reviews, it's probably a good one. Please never go someplace just because it has 5 stars on ay review forum. In the end, you never know if something is your favorite unless you go there yourself.

Posted by
2916 posts

if your town had two Arby's and one was rated 2.5 and the other 3.5, I think I know where I might go first.

I'd go to the next town.
Seriously, I don't put too much stock in TA (I don't even count Yelp) for either restaurants or hotels. Yes, I do look at the reviews, and will take into account reviews if, for example, most reviews for a restaurant are bad, or most are very good. Otherwise, I just read some reviews to get an idea what people think; and hope that these are actually people.

Posted by
8495 posts

All of the reviews I have written are real and all of the 835 reviews for my tour company are real. Do fake ones slip by sometimes? Probably, but it certainly is not the majority. Read reviews with what you like and appreciate in mind. Is friendliness your top priority in a restaurant or hotel, or is it cleanliness or fast service. Is decor important? Are you ok that everyone has a bad day sometimes or that they might be shorthanded during flu season and then take that into account when you read or write a review?

Do be aware that since Viator bought Trip Advisor, that you don't get to see all the reviews unless you leave the Viator pages and go strictly Trip Advisor. Viator only shows you reviews from companies that are paying a commission to them to sell their tours, etc. Biggest scam around, just like Trivago. Google has now moved into the same sales model, as they also want to sell you something.

Always go to the website of the hotel, the restaurant, the tour, the tourist attraction and purchase directly. Do not buy through consolidators like Viator, Expedia, Trip Advisor, Get Your Guide, etc.

Posted by
15365 posts

Tripadvisor and Michelin are completely different. Michelin has an absolute rating and pays experts to make them. TA asks the general public, who mostly rate based on their expectations. This is true for lodgings as well. You have to read the reviews. Consider the source . . . I look at the number of reviews a person has made. if it's only a few, and especially if it's only 1, I ignore it, whether it's a rave or a pan. If it's not a 4-5 star review, what was wrong. Sometimes it's relevant, sometimes not. I've seen negative reviews because a reservation was screwed up or one staff person was inattentive.

In a "primitive dump", I expect a ARby's with decent food and good service, to be rated quite high. But I'd still buy stuff at the supermarket and eat in my room.

Posted by
2243 posts

Chani, thank you for drawing attention to the Michelin side of the equation!
We've gone on and on here in the forum about the relative usefulness or uselessness of TA and other crowd-sourced reviews,
but have not chewed over the professional reviews nearly enough, IMHO.

Laura B -- I'm with you in your comment above. I've mentioned before about going to the 'best French bistro' in Denver and finding that the food and the drinks were indeed pretty similar to what you'd see in Paris (a decade earlier) but they were served at Denver speed and in Colorado proportions in an American sound-level atmosphere. French food but not a very French dining experience.

Professional guides have a perspective, are aimed at an audience, and have concerns about reputation / social standing.
If there's a good fit, you get good results. If not, then not.
Recall that I am very fond of the Amadeus in Sevilla not just because of the accommodations but because the staff knows what I like - we are simpatico. If you want to go out and dine in a spot where you can people watch and also be seen yourself, they will recommend someplace for you. If you want new edgy cuisine, they know the right spots. If you want traditional culture, they can offer something in whichever culture you have in mind -- Mozareb, Castellano, North African, etc.
It's not a matter of stars/popularity, it's a matter of fit. Maybe you want to squeeze up to a crowded bar and yell for a ration of croquetas, or maybe you want to be in a leather banquette with one tiny candle and nobody else within earshot.

Posted by
6553 posts

I think the data referred to regarding validity of online reviews is a bit misleading related to the OP's question. The data looked at primarily product reviews and cases where the quantity (n) of reviews may be limited. As someone mentioned, if you see a place with 10 reviews, not much can be gleaned from those and faith in the overall rating should be limited. A place though with 1000+ reviews from wide ranging users with multiple review history, that is hard to "fake" and you can start to glean some useful information.

I usually get more out of the "low" ratings, if nothing else, entertainment value. Some people find offense in petty things, and often reveal their ignorance. Recently I was looking at reviews for a restaurant in Portugal we wound up going to. One bad review actually praised the place for several things, but gave 1 star because the waiter, with limited English, pointed out a regional dish, that she described as bits of stringy pork with way overcooked pasta and an "off" taste. While there, and likely encountering the same waiter, getting the same spiel, and seeing the menu and the dish...I quickly figured out what she had was a Tripe dish, I so badly wanted to be able to message her and let her know. Now was that the fault of the restaurant? Did they deserve a bad review for someones ignorance?, No, but it is out there.

Posted by
1277 posts

Dear OP, it's not a small town if you have an arby's
My town is small and has much less amenities :)

Posted by
384 posts

Most of the reviews for restaurants in my own area are proof that many of my fellow Americans don't have very sophisticated pallets. I hate to say it but it is true. People rave about the 'best pizza' found at some chain restaurant, or the incredible gyros, or fantastic minestrone at some fake Italian eatery. These people are well intentioned and it could be that really is the best pizza or gyro they have ever had in their life. But, the person is 32 years old and their only trip abroad was to some beachy tourist camp in Mexico. There idea of Italian cooking is to buy some dried pasta, a jar of spaghetti sauce, and some frozen garlic bread they heat up in the microwave. They simply do not know better.

Posted by
3493 posts

The ratings on Trip Advisor and similar platforms are not done by professionals and are not in any way related to Michelin stars or other professionally conducted reviews. A 5 star rated diner is not going to be providing Michelin star rated service with table cloths fine china and real silver with waiters falling over each other to serve you.

TA is simply, from my experience, nothing more than how the specific place performed while those rating it were there. In other words, if it was a burger joint, did you get a tasty burger prepared as you requested at a decent price served to you in an friendly manner? If yes, then the rating will be higher. If not, or even if you were the one having a bad day and the food and service were perfect, the rating might be the lowest possible. It could be a competitor or the restaurant itself posting skewed reviews to make them look worse or better than what the actual diners report. As someone else here noted, if two similar type eating places got significantly different ratings, I would be swayed to go to the higher rated one over the other, which is really the extent of the weight I place on TA reviews.

I have seen similar complaints about hotels in Europe where someone complained they went to a "5-star" hotel and it was a dump with terrible service. In many parts of Europe, the stars simply relate to the minimum amenities available and have nothing to do with the actual level or quality of service.

Posted by
2014 posts

Most of my TripAdvisor activity is reviews. However, I recognize as I write, a change in ownership or chef may negate the review. I take restaurant reviews older than a year with a grain of salt. I do the same with hotel reviews, except I give them a window of 2-3 years; too much can change after that spread of time.

I would evaluate a Michelin rating much differently than a TA review for a fast-food place. I’m certain that Michelin has a minimum standard to even be considered for a rating, while fast food restaurants have a different emphasis. I do appreciate a TA review for a fast food place as their mass-produced fare is is meant to be uniform, but their level of cleanliness and service can vary. If I’m driving between Las Vegas and Los Angeles, my options are pretty much the same fast food options, so that’s where the reviews come in.