Thinking Out Loud

The anatomy of a food review and how to read one

By  | 

” The fact that an opinion has been widely held is no evidence whatever that it is not utterly absurd.”
– Bertrand Russell

The World Wide Web has grown into something more than what it was initially designed for.
There’s so much that’s happening at the other end of your screen and it’s only a click or touch away. Current events, recipes on the go, buying tech, seeking legal advice, ad infinitum.

Invariably, most of our decisions made online have been molded with or without our permission by another online user. Before we plan our next vacation, the vast majority of us do make it a point to skim through a few reviews because collective feedback does matter – or does it?

Renowned marketer Phil Barden elucidates the consumers’ psychology in his book, ‘The Science Behind Why We Buy’ and explains what really influences our buying decisions. In fact, most marketing professionals use this as their North Star whilst brainstorming their next strategy or campaign. Could similar, if not the same, principles be used when it comes to food reviews as well?

This is an area I’m still trying to fully comprehend from the writer’s perspective – how does one converge the sense of touch, smell, taste and in some cases – sound all into one element which is the sense of sight? How is a picture of a presumably perfectly engineered Baumkuchen going to convince the readers that it really is what it’s been described as – perfect?

Here are some of my thoughts on what to consider whilst reading a food review.
A few of these angles could also be considered whilst reading a review about a hotel stay, a tour package or even something non-food related. The idea is one really needs to be open minded and understand the difference between three key words – the advice, the opinion and the suggestion.

The advice says, “This is what I think you ought to do.”
The opinion says, “These are my thoughts.”
The suggestion says, “This an idea that I have and you could use it if you like.”

Based on personal experience and from the experience of other food bloggers and restaurateurs, here’s what I usually look into whilst reading a food review:

1. Is this a sponsored post and / or was the blogger invited to dine there?
Most bloggers receive scores and maybe more invitations everyday. There’s nothing wrong with that as long as there is a good amount of transparency to let the readers know that the relationship between the food blogger and the food business does not beckon the blogger to feel obligated to write a positive review.

2. Could it be possible that the diner was the restaurant or cafe during one of the ‘bad hair days’ of the business?
We’ve all experienced a ‘bad hair day’ at least once in our lives. We’ve had days where things didn’t exactly pan out as chalked down and our attempts to fix it, simply made it worse. Food businesses have those days too sometimes – the oven might break down, the head chef may have to leave the kitchen because of an emergency, the food supplier might not show up with the much needed supplies on that given day so the team has to make a quick decision to bring in the replacement – the list goes on.
What matters is how well did they take care of the problem and how did they ‘troubleshoot’ the situation.
We all make mistakes and we all deserve a second chance.
Beware of someone who’s looking for a free meal though – I’ve personally come across situations where one tries to get a waiver off the bill by planting a hair in one of their dishes. Sneaky sneaky.

3. Does product knowledge play a role?
Definitely. One needs to have a reasonable amount of product knowledge when it comes to writing and talking about food before framing a post. There are ingredients that are homegrown, there are also a few that had to cross borders before reaching your plate. Is the food blogger aware of seasonal ingredients? Is the food blogger aware that there regulations involved when it comes to promoting organic dishes on the menu? Does the food blogger know what an allergen is?
At this juncture, I would like to add that as useful as Wikipedia might be, it’s unfortunately not a reliable source as it is open to editing by users from around the world. What’s black today might be blue tomorrow – just saying.

4. What was the food blogger’s palate like?
We have our favorites and our aversions- there’s no denying that.
The common answer to ‘what’s your favourite dish?’ without hesitation is usually, ‘Mum’s cooking’.
As humans, we are programmed to learn from patterns and we relate to experiences that we have been predominantly exposed to. Now if an individual was never was exposed to spicy food during his or her growing years, it’s not likely that they’ll be the first to sign up for the spicy food contest, unless they grow to like it during a later stage of their lives.
If you’re writing about international food, you’re expected to be unbiased and this is only possible if you’ve got a broad spectrum palate. Taste is relative and it varies from person to person. An honest line such as “I’m usually not too fond of desserts as I lack the sweet tooth.”, adds more value to your opinion about the dessert  because you chose to give it a try.
Having said that, I find it contradictory when I read “cooked to perfection” and I’m told that perfection does not exist. Could that be relative as well?

Don't mind this lost illustration of mine.

Don’t mind this lost illustration of mine. This was created using sumi ink, beet juice, turmeric, coffee powder and green tea. Not edible.

5. Does the blogger respond to queries made as comments?
It’s good to see a food blogger interacting with the audience by being prompt in responding to queries or comments. We can’t have complete control over feedback cloaked in spam but getting back to genuine ones does make all the difference. In my opinion, that’s one of the traits of a good ‘influencer’ as well.

What are your tips for making a decision based on customer reviews?
Feel free to comment below.

Comestible regards,
Judy Sebastian

5 Comments

  1. Boozychef

    July 28, 2015 at 8:13 am

    Great post Judy. Lots of food for thought. As per usual love your candour! Brandon shared your thoughts on point 2. Some how people forget about bad days, standardization isn’t the way forward! Point 3 is extremely important as it’s critical to the food chain supply. But with the way things are going people’s carbon food print is getting the best of them thru their food. Would be avoided if they can be grown locally but not cost foregin prices. Agreed with the rest as well 🙂 Great job as per usual!

    • Food She Blogged

      July 28, 2015 at 7:52 pm

      Thanks for your feedback, Lin and yes, I do stress on point 2 as well – it isn’t fair to purely rely on first impressions.
      Thanks for stopping by the blog 🙂

  2. Ashley

    July 28, 2015 at 7:45 pm

    This article speaks my mind. Well written as always Judy! Ive only recently started reading your blog and I like how its different from the others in UAE
    The advise, the opinion and the suggestion – loved that bit!!

    • Food She Blogged

      July 28, 2015 at 7:54 pm

      Thanks for taking the time to comment, Ashley.
      Appreciate the kind feedback 🙂

  3. Danny

    August 2, 2015 at 5:03 pm

    Ah! The code is out!
    Food reviewers– watch out 😀
    Thanks Judy! This article is quite thought provoking.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *