Have you ever been to Italy and ordered a three-cheese sandwich for breakfast and got excited to discover what cheeses go really well together? Have you then received a sandwich with not one but two types of American processed cheese slices and a spreadable cheese with nothing else between the squared white bread? If that sounds like you (#SoRelatable) what was your course of action afterward? When this happened to me I couldn't find a better way to fight the system of dubious foods in well-located, presentable places next to busy train stations than:
1. eating my sandwich
2. complaining to my friends and
3. creating a Google Maps account to leave a one-star warning review to all the people out there.
At the time I assumed that the review was my only way to address the issue. I got a bad sandwich from a friendly waitress - well-packed misinformation. We were in Italy, for f*ck’s (Caesar's) sake, a country with hundreds of cheeses, one better than the other. In my state of shock, sitting on the train, I saw no other way but to speak up about these food atrocities.
It shouldn’t happen to anyone. Ever.
My public voice was going to clarify it once and for all, with a negative review. But how do I communicate my feelings to a random stranger, what if that’s what an Italian cheese sandwich looks like in this region? Area? Made by this chef. Or I have different standards…
The review is an opinion piece on assessment of the quality of the review piece. With a goal to bring change if necessary. Today’s reviewer reviews anything from created media, like movies, series, books, magazines, and musicals, to art, wines, new supermarket products, supermarkets themselves, restaurants, workplaces, and anything else, including feelings, phenomenons and historical events. Ideally, a review should be impartial; while it is an opinion of a person it should be read as a considerate evaluation of all pieces put together into the product. With an understanding of what assumptions were made and how they were met. The goal is to communicate to the next user /client / visitor and the creator what to expect, pay attention to, what works and what does not.
The review is a powerful tool that can ruin a business. Or it can elevate it above all else since the only thing you could know about a new café before visiting is the opinion of others or a first impression from the ads. The problem is then with the opinions, everyone got one. Which one is important? In order for reviews to work, they must be a valuable source of information. This can only happen if the person leaving a review knows what they are doing and the person reading it trusts that source. Should you trust the opinions of strangers to a family dinner and book a wedding venue?
At the moment reviews are in the public domain and it works to have a multitude of people having a variety of opinions about the products. If the food is subjectively good, the majority of people will like it and it will on average have better reviews. Will the average grade be better than the opinion of a trusted friend?
Alternatively, how can you make up your own mind if there are always reviews involved? Where does your opinion start and where do stars behind the glass, words of strangers, and brief comments of friends end?
I started writing reviews because they seemed like a valuable source of information for those who didn't know better. For the tourists who are lured into traps, while locals know better.
I wanted to tell my side of the story - I didn’t like the sandwich. Most importantly it was overpriced, badly made and it didn’t represent what I’d seen on the menu. I left a review for others, to make them aware. I left a review for the restaurant to make them do better. But in all truth I left it for me, because I was unhappy and complaining to two of my friends wasn’t enough. The review didn't change the world but it gave me a perspective on the experience I’ve had. I moved on (until now) and continued writing reviews with the hope of addressing the bigger issue.
At the heart of writing the reviews lies dissatisfaction or immense pleasure, which brings social aspects to the surface. People want to talk about big things - events and their experiences. When our experience is below or above the “average” threshold we want to complain or praise places and people, and speak our minds, share our feelings. With the aim of getting heard. At the same time, we are looking for the audience of people who are more likely to hear us out, friends close to you at the moment, people who ask, next in line, not the invisible strangers. Until we got a platform where everyone is an expert and contributes to the experience.
Are the owners, chefs and staff listening?
But if we think about it, the people who are making the food are left unaware of our experience and there are two reasons for that. First, are the owners / chefs / staff listening? Second, are customers ready to face the people behind the counter in a helpful and considerate way? In the perfect world addressing the issue at the core by having a dialogue with people in charge of the experience is the best solution for everyone involved, if only we knew how to have this conversation. Owners aren't ready to start changing things willy-nilly due to one complaint, while customers aren't about to be objective, honest, and speak up without expectation of compensation. And for that, we need to start looking at the personal and global goals of food and reviews.
If customers' end goal is to eat good food and pay what it’s worth, they need to know somehow what they are getting into when they come into a restaurant / café / coffee house. And for the eatery to provide the best experience possible, it is essential to be clear about the choices available, have a user-friendly menu and design, and most importantly, the ability to address any arising issues.
Food is a necessity and should be approached responsibly. Good food takes time. Golden arches are good for most people because they spend a lot of time perfecting and standardising every component of their meals as well as the system of logistics, location and property ownership. The same is true for the best restaurants. From the ingredients they choose to the techniques they use. All parts of the food experience are taken care of so you can relax and enjoy the meal. And before we can tell others about our amazing (or not) experience we need to understand all the parts that came into play.
Our taste buds don't adjust easily to the never tasted before standards. Good food that is out of one’s comfort zone isn’t bad food - it’s food that requires work to accept and enjoy.
At the end of the day, people have to eat. And if we don't look at the food and food providers rationally and make a step towards better food it won’t get any better. So where do we begin?
Know your food
How well do you know your food and the people who make it? If you are like many, you don't know enough about your favourite meal even when you get it from the same place every Friday.
We like food on the basis of taste. Our taste buds don't lie. But we rarely think enough about the tastes. Salt tastes good to us, to a certain point, because it is required in our bodies, it also makes bland foods more exciting and accentuates the flavours; sugar and fat make food more palatable. We enjoy, savour and crave more foods with salt, sugar and fat in them. Our brains are wired this way. Basic ingredients and cooking practices enhance the experience of food, making it good. And good food is the one that makes us happy. Simple.
With more expectations come more disappointments. The moment you learn that the weight of the cutleries and colour, quality and surface pattern of the crockery makes your experience better, you start to expect that. When you think about the price as the main point for good food besides “tasty = happy” then your emotions start to depend on it too. If the quality service - a chatty waiter or a chef, makes your heartbeat go faster then you can’t avoid disappointment ordering from the tap of the screen.
When happiness depends on a complete experience it is hard to rationally consider every single contribution to it. However, being attentionate to details and knowing where experience points are coming from is helpful for the clients and the owner. To write a review and to make others aware of the highs and shortfalls of the experience the writer must be skilled to do so. To know what this food is supposed to be, its roots, tastes and the presentation. It might even be helpful to learn foods’ history and cooking methods. Other ingredients of the experience include the plates and cutlery, tables, chairs, and even kitchen positioning. Open-plan or hidden behind the closed doors kitchens bring transparency and spectacle vs. intrigue and peacefulness. The next point worth considering is service. The attitude of the waiter staff and the work of bartenders, cleaners and chefs. Asking for details about the meal can be a helpful guide to the transparency and availability of knowledge between restaurant staff. Further away from food but equally as important are the aspects of environmental design - what surrounds you makes your experience. This includes music, light, colours, size of the room, ambiance, the stress level of the staff, and everything in between including the toilets. If one of the aspects is critically bad how can someone say with full certainty that everything was taken care of?
Food on your plate doesn't always do justice to all the people who have contributed to it from the first to the final bite. If we only cared about the food, why complain about rude staff? Or a lousy presentation. Or the waiting time. Or the toilet location and size. It is way easier to say what doesn't contribute to the experience than see what does and if we are going to evaluate the experience and talk about it, we need to be clear on the invisible contributors to the feelings we left with when the bill is served.
If you don't like pickles in your burger do you ask them to be taken out of your order or do you pick them out yourself?
To make a change through reviews we need to start taking the reviews seriously, for ourselves and others. Consider your contribution a conversation starter. Understanding what’s important for you, other clients, owners, and talking about those points to reach a common goal - a better food experience. If everyone in the room participates with an action, the change will follow. Of course, we can't expect everything to change all at once, on-demand, immediately, but after careful consideration, taking the wholeness of experience, and sharing it truthfully, we will see the shift in the desired direction. Small steps in the right direction are the framework for progress. And people using words as a signpost for a better food future is the key.
Words lead to work. And we should work to voice essential opinions to people. Fresh, raw, intelligent, honest and empathetic opinions are often missing from the places of reviews. Understanding that everyone is a contributor we shouldn't expect every opinion to matter because if we would, change itself would become the goal. In that regard, no expectations is the best approach, as long as we work to bring change ourselves. Listening to get aware, learn and start considering for the next time what experience really is. Is it a taste, a place, the people, or something else completely, that makes us want to give everyone in the room high fives, kisses, hugs and kind words of inspiration? And if it’s not a success, what did we learn from it?
I have learned one thing, after careful consideration and checking of my first ever Google maps review - it was not three but four-cheese sandwich panini. Served stale and cold. Which made me disappointed to go places without considering all of the above.
About the Creator
Very well written. Keep up the good work!
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