Rose's Fine Food has only been open for two weeks, but Molly Abraham of the Detroit News has already visited and published a starred review. Her review is glowing, calling the food "fresh and well prepared", their decision to go traditional instead of trendy "refreshing", and the most negative thing she says is that "The neighborhood seems grateful for this unpretentious work in progress." Well, two weeks in it's unquestionably a work in progress, so nothing shocking there. However, she rated the diner only 2.5 stars out of 4, causing commenters to question why, and leading others to wonder if a restaurant can really even be rated such a short time after opening.
For Joe Hakim of The Hungry Dudes, the definitive rating given such a short time into a new restaurant's lifespan seemed problematic. He noted in a Facebook post that a new restaurant should be allowed a little time to discover and address problems before receiving a hard judgement from critics:
"This place has been open for less than two weeks. Why in the hell is a review (with a star rating no less) being published already? No restaurant should be judged so quickly. Give them a month or two to work out the kinks then visit & review. I get that Yelp has changed the review system, but so called food writers, editors, & journalists should repress the urge to be first & let places find some sort of groove."
Hakim's post sparked over a dozen comments, as diners and industry people alike weighed in on both sides of the issue, discussing everything from whether or not it was a real review or just a "preview", to what the stars meant, to Abraham's taste in restaurants. But for Hakim, the rating and Abraham were not the issue:
"I am not even concerned about the 2.5 stars. I'm merely pointing out that this place hasn't had time to figure out it's daily function as a business yet. Both times I went, certain dishes were sold out and/or elements of the plate were different. During the first few weeks of operation this is expected & can be explained away as growing pains. Those pains should be worked out in a couple months, at which point, a restaurant can be reviewed, though this would be early too. I want Rose's to survive & do well, but I think a review so early on does more harm than good, especially if it leads to a jump in business when the people ordering & preparing the food may not have their bearings yet."
Other Hungry Dudes commenters noted that this isn't just about Rose's Fine Food, as Abraham frequently reviews restaurants in the first two weeks of being open, and one stated that she has even published starred reviews before restaurants' official openings, citing her review of Ollie's as their example.
But the issue really is twofold, in that some feel reviewers are trying out new places and issuing judgements far too soon, while others are confused by the entire rating system. Even on Abraham's article on the official Detroit News site, commenters disagreed about what the ratings meant.
One commenter noted "I don't recall seeing one negative comment about the place in the entire piece. Seems about half a point low for a review this good.", to which another replied "I think it's pretty simple. They're not competing with Roast or the Rattlesnake Club. This is simple, fresh good food but it's not 4 star dining. There's nothing wrong with that."
A third argued that the system was essentially useless if positives and negatives weren't clearly defined:
"I would love to find out exactly how stars are awarded ... I hardly ever hear a harsh word in a review by Molly (like this one), but only 2 1/2 stars out of 4? What makes it rate lower than 3 or 4? I'd like to see the positives and negatives, otherwise the review is useless to both the customer and proprietor."
But a fourth insisted that people have expectations of what a 4 should look like:
"Having worked in the restaurant industry, I can tell you this: That rating is a favor. If she even gives it a 3, people will expect too much and walk away disappointed or even angry and word of mouth will suffer. She tried to adjust those ratings years ago to accurately reflect what the proprietor set out to do, but people simply will not adjust their expectations. They see the stars and want linen and a wine list."
So how to solve these two problems? It seems fairly simple-write an intro piece (no rating) about new restaurants but save the reviews for a later visit, and show a rubric with the grading system to eliminate confusion. Is a diner never going to be more than a 2.5? Or is each restaurant rated in its own category, with 4 star potential? As long as it's clear and consistent the answer shouldn't matter, but the confusion clearly does.
· Unpretentious Rose's Fine Food Offers Diner Fare with Unique Flair [Detroit News]
· The Hungry Dudes Official Page [Facebook]
· Welcome to Rose's Fine Food, Take a Look Inside [-ED-]