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Idaho Falls, Idaho
Oh, and don't feel too sorry for me. There are some awesome restaurants if found over the years and I don't forget their names.

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(03-23-2019, 09:23 PM)Freddy Wrote: While I agree with most of what is written here, let me play devil's advocate.  Let's talk about those dining, the customers.  Several years ago, my friend was visiting from Scotland and she and I both appreciate a great restaurant experience.  We took my neighbors to a restaurant specializing in Argentine cuisine.  The portions were not large but more than adequate and the food was quite tasty.  All my neighbors could talk about was the small size of the portions and the price of the food (which I was paying for).  They equated quality with quantity and would probably have thought that Ruby Tuesday or TGIFriday was fine dining.  I have eaten in some chain restaurants where the portions were indecently large, the meals were forgettable, and the prices were not expensive and they wouldn't stay in business if that wasn't what enough people wanted.  On two separate occasions, once in West Palm Beach, Florida and once in Toledo, Ohio, I was with friends who wanted to eat at the Olive Garden chain.  In both instances, and they were a few years apart, while walking out to the car after dinner, I honestly could not remember what I had ordered or eaten; the food was truly forgettable, even though there was a lot (too much) of it.  Sadly, I think that is probably more the norm than not, at least in much of the United States.

The above, in no way, takes away from a poor dining experience in a supposedly nicer restaurant, especially when it's not part of a chain.  Whether a chain or a private restaurant, service should always be excellent.  By the same token, those dining should not be obnoxiously demanding.

Yes. I've come across folks like that as well. I used to work with a group of people who liked to go on cruises. And I mean every vacation was a cruise. And all I would hear about is how much food they would put out, how big the shrimp are and how many times in a day they could eat. Nothing about about the quality of the food. You have to consider where the comments are coming from. Some people you just discount everything they have to say and move on. You can tell pretty quickly if they see the restaurant world the same way you do. I've been to Olive Garden. It's disgusting. Things that shouldn't be creamy, are, and things that should be creamy aren't. Rubbery bread is also something I can't stand. Never going back. Fortunately I live in the NY metro area and there are literally tons and tons of really good restaurants to choose from. But when I've traveled, I sometimes would seek out the occasional chain simply because it was predicable.

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(03-22-2019, 12:29 PM)Lipripper660 Wrote: I travel for work and although time from home isn't fun, my customers are my friends and I like it.  Obviously, when on the road I have to leave my kitchen behind and eat at the local establishments.  Some things I've learned:
1) never trust the hotel clerks restaurant suggestion.  I've yet to have been directed to a fine establishment and when I do find a local gem, and mention it to the front desk they don't  known about it.
2) Urban Spoon (and other online) reviews are quite often worthless.   I assume there has to be some "pay to play" going on here because all of Americas tongues cannot be broken.
3)Chain vs Mom/Pop.  The mom and pop does not always win.  Most chains are mediocre at best BUT they are predictable which sometimes is ok.
4) if the menu is 4 pages long, RUN!  Chances are they won't be able to do any of the items well.

Hey, I'm no Bobby Flay or Wolfgang Puck but I hold my own in a kitchen.  I appreciate great ingredients done right.  I enjoy all types of cultures and cuisines.  I seek out the esoteric and love to support local.  But whole crap Batman!  If you swing a shingle in the air offering sustenance to weary travelers, or to your community friends and neighbors, PLEASE have something to offer that a home cook might not easily replicate.  It apalls me how often I go to a restaurant only to find there is not an imaginative or caring chef on the premises.  I don't care if you have been to culinary school or not, but I do care that you paid attention to your mom or grandma and have mastered some things that others can't do. ANYONE can run a can opener and pop something in the microwave.  I have an expectation at my home table that when I sit down to a meal, good things happen.  When I pay to go to your professional establishment I expect GREAT things to happen.  Way too often it seems the food comes out of a #10 can.  I expect that if you open a dining establishment my experience with you ought to leave me longing to return or at the very least impressed by your style even if my palate didn't understand your story.  I get hacked when you offer me crappy food at expensive prices.  Shoot, I'm there for an experience, not to cram stuff down my cram hole.

Fancy done right is AWESOME but "simple" done masterfully might even be better. So please, restaranteurs, up your game or do something else.  This road warrior is passionate about his profession and expects you to be also. I'm tired of batting under 500 on new restaurants.

I can (I guess) speak to number 2. as I work on the data part of reviews for a big player in a non-restaurant space.

There's a lot that goes into why reviews are such a poor measure of "product quality" despite their invaluable role in increasing sales.

Firstly, not to be a pessimist but I can confirm your suspicions that there is some fraudulent behavior going on in any review system. There are documented cases of establishment/brand owners engaging in what might charitably called campaigns to boost their own reviews or ding others. How common it is is hard to say; some of these efforts are sophisticated enough that they can be difficult even for good data science departments to detect. Often, you would find out about them later. There are the easy efforts like bots or people who create 16 accounts on one ip, but you might read the email sent out by the company Sunday Riley to their employees on how to circumvent a lot of the stuff used to track authenticity in reviews. These companies want it done and will find a way to stay ahead of the people trying to bust them.

But, I would not expect too much of that, to be honest. Or at least, until it's proven to be pervasive, it's probably appropriate to assume that it's not.

But past that, there are still problems endemic to rating and review systems that have nothing to do with pay-to-play or even shenanigans.

For example, the most common review score is 100%. But, that's obviously wrong, isnt it? But the statistical reality is that reviews are heavily stacked towards the top with a spike at the absolute bottom. And yet, so many places are so very mediocre lol.

In addition to this, there is a LOT of self-selection that goes into who even chooses to write a review or under what circumstances they do. I think that these systems are built on the assumption that more or less everyone will review more or less everything. I'm sure you can imagine how that could be a problem, but ok fine I see the point and I would actually believe that some group wisdom would fall out and it would definitely get you over random chance.

However, most people writing reviews are going to fall into 3 buckets; the occasional reviewer who had their mind blown by a great experience on what is probably an occasion dining experience (e.g. anniversary dinner, birthday brunch, etc), people who had a HORRIFIC experience, and then the 'yelp monsters' we're probably all aware of who are just a-holes using 5 stars as a way to bring some control into their lives. I would think that the size of the group of people who consider these sites as genuine social media experiences to interact with regularly is quite small compared to any of these groups. But what percentage of restaurant customers do these even cover? If we accept these assumptions, and OK Im asking you to suspend your disbelief here, but if we do then unless a restaurant is actually near the extreme top or bottom of quality then the reviews are highly biased compared to the establishment's actual quality.

Even going beyond that, how many dishes do you need to try before you form an opinion about a place? How developed does your palette need to be? Do I care what some 22 year old stoner who thinks Dominos is great thinks about my local Neapolitan place? No offense to that kid, but over my 20s my understanding of food/technique/the world at large changed an awful lot and I simply have different tastes now.

I can also give you a case of my own blindness towards this. I used to live in NC and there was this little place downtown a few blocks from my office and I thought it was pretty OK. Every time I went I ordered a dish that seemed right up my alley and it was always good. About a year after it opened, it suddenly closed. I asked around work (and mind you, these were people who were pretty close my own age/background) and no one else liked this place. Apparently the dish I got was the one thing they did well.

So, my suggestion is to take those reviews with a grain of salt. Firstly, if there is a systematic tendency towards something across a lot of reviews, that bit is *probably* true. Secondly, look for reviews where the person writing it expresses other opinions you can benchmark against your own to see if you might agree. Thirdly, look at the images of the food. I think plating can tell you a lot about how much the kitchen cares, which is probably what you really want to know anyway, right? Fourthly, I'd hit up the people you know in places to get recs if at all possible. I have asked on forums for what locals like, checked local reddit groups, etc.

FWIW restaurants are part of why I hate traveling. I love eating in a good one, but I too feel like the percentage of ones that do the fundamentals right is not that great, price is no guarantee of quality, and a surprising number of places are just outright so middling I might as well have eaten a protein bar.

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Unless the hotel you are staying at has a well established concierge, never ask staff for food suggestions unless it’s pizza. That’s my opinion on that. A good concierge though, man, pure gold.

Here’s a hint - If you are going to the same town semi regularly, take a food tour. Almost every town has one, and they know the gems. If you don’t have time to do the tour, or your not in a town often, look at their at the food tours inerrancy and pick a place. Remember to say that the food tour place recommended them. It matters.

Happy dinning friends!

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West Coast USA
I always assumed there were kickbacks on the food tours. They may not be bad but you're also not going to the best places, either.

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Philadelphia, PA
(04-21-2019, 08:28 PM)insomniac Wrote: I always assumed there were kickbacks on the food tours. They may not be bad but you're also not going to the best places, either.

I'm sure there are. when my wife and I went to Jamaica last year on a cruise, we did 1 of the tours around the island. The tour guide took us to one of the restaurants she recommends and the food was just average at best and the service was slow.

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Tu ne cede malis, sed contra audentior ito.
It’s Jamaica lol - of course the service was slow Smile

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(04-21-2019, 08:28 PM)insomniac Wrote: I always assumed there were kickbacks on the food tours. They may not be bad but you're also not going to the best places, either.

I mean back in the day maybe the tours could take you to places where to food sucked, but the kickbacks made the operator money, but in today’s world? I mean with online reviews, the tour operator would get bad reviews and no tips.

I don’t know - I’ve had great luck. Been on many.

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Philadelphia, PA
(04-21-2019, 09:01 PM)Drifter Wrote: It’s Jamaica lol - of course the service was slow Smile

normally it doesn't bother me, but when you need to get back on a cruise ship by a certain time. lol

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Tu ne cede malis, sed contra audentior ito.
(This post was last modified: 04-25-2019, 05:06 AM by eeyore.)
Rules for passing through an unknown place in order of importance. Works for us...

1. Ethnic food.
2. Cars out in front.
3. Ask a gas station attendant.

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'The more I learn about people, the more I like my dog.'  - Mark Twain

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