The Final Word On The Ethics Of Restaurant Review (Yeah, Right)

Well, it seems like we’ve stirred some debate on the issue of whether, and under what circumstances, it’s okay to review a restaurant immediately upon its opening. It all started when we posted some unfavorable reviews for Lao Beijing based on meals eaten during the first few days of the restaurant’s existence. Reader editorkid responded that reviewers, especially ones with influence, should take care to give new restaurants some time to “shake things out” before launching their assaults. We followed up on this by saying that, while this is how responsible reviewing ought to happen, there is no way to keep snap reactions from the Internet, so everyone (restaurants and consumers) ought to get used to it and take it into account.

This analysis prompted a reaction from editorkid, who refined his position, and from fellow Chicago food blogger Vital Information, who ostensibly disagreed with both of us.

Editorkid, in a comment, wrote that what’s ultimately important is the reliability and integrity of the reviews - something that could be accomplished by multiple visits over a longer period, for example.

Vital information believes that constructive criticism (like the early LTHForum reviews in question) is a good thing, and deserves public airing on its own merits. He cautions that it would be bad to read these early reviews out of context (it ought to be clear at what point in the restaurant’s life that the review takes place), but ultimately, restaurants are responsible for their product and any aftermath it incurs.

Okay then! After some consideration, we don’t think that these opinions are terribly in conflict. Editorkid is looking at the situation normatively, or how it ought to be, and Vital Information is taking a positivist approach, or how it actually is. Both seem to be arguing for the importance of transparency and objectivity in restaurant reviews (and life too, why not).

This isn’t really a debate about protecting restaurants vs. protecting free speech - instead, it’s about intellectual honesty and avoiding bias. The early reviews are really only worth listening to if they’re marked as such, and ideally followed up by later reviews. A reviewer who doesn’t do that, who bases their review on limited experience and presents it without context, is not worth reading. But if the facts of even such a skimpy review are true, then nothing severely dishonest has been perpetrated.

The other day, Slate posted a thought experiment about what would happen if the dissemination of political polling data prior to elections were banned. Since polling data itself can affect the outcome of an election in a vicious and vacant cycle, it is worth thinking about what would happen if people simply had to make up their minds based on the merits of the candidates instead of media-mediated popularity contests. Obviously this is impractical, but it has interesting parallels with our situation. What if it were “illegal” to post restaurant reviews before a certain point in the restaurant’s life? Lacking guiding information, people might just…give places a whirl. We’re not saying that it’s not okay for people to make their opinions known - that’s what the Internet is all about; just that sometimes (most of the time), it’s safer and healthier to form your own opinions.

Have a thoughtful weekend!

Opening: Lao Beijing (Or Is It Lao Peking?) [MP:Chicago]

The Ethics Of Restaurant Reviewing: Lao Beijing & The LTHForum Fallout [MP:Chicago]

First Impressions, Fine [Vital Information]

What If We Banned Polling? [Slate]

The Final Word On The Ethics Of Restaurant Review (Yeah, Right)