It used to be that finding a new restaurant to go to was a matter of recommendation. You’d find yourself hearing where your in-laws went last Saturday night, and how amazing the Chateaubriand was, how perfectly reduced the demi-glace was, and what an asshole the waiter was. And based on your circle of family and friends you knew whose judgement to trust and whose to smile and nod at humoringly, knowing you simply couldn’t trust their take on quality gastronomy.
Or, if you were heading into unchartered territory, you could always call someone (you know, on those big clunky things that you spun with a finger until you hit that little metal crescent, letting the dial return to its resting state before you could spin out the next number?) who knew that city well and ask them where they thought you could go for a decent spaghetti and meatballs. A place that wouldn’t overcook the pasta or give you meatballs the size of your face.
Of course there was always the handy Michelin guide and eventually the Zagat guide, though they were two very different sources of help for dining dilemmas. Michelin used and still uses hired “inspectors” who eat on the company’s dime and then rate the restaurant. There are those that live by this guide, and unfortunately those who die by it, too. And if you’ve ever read The Inspector Sits Down at the Table (written by a former inspector) you know that favoritism is often at play. Zagat, on the other hand, bases its reviews on average paying diners, but how the hell you tackle the task of editing hundreds of customer reviews down to an extremely long, quote-filled sentence beats me. Now, like anything else not nailed to the ground, it’s owned by Google.
But where we are today is much, much, much more mired in bullshit. When I came back from my hiatus, kicking and screaming about the 10th circle of hell more commonly known as Portobello Feasts, I did what any other web-savvy diner would do and I posted my review of the place on Yelp, Zagat.com, FourSquare, Chowhound, etc. These are the places people go to for guidance, I thought. This is where I can tell them what happened to me so I can spare them the agony…fall on the sword and all that martyr-like stuff. This is where the playing field that was once trampled under foot by “inspectors” is now supposed to be level. This is where word of mouth can take on a whole new, viral meaning.
But within 24 hours my review had been removed from Yelp because it fell “outside our Content Guidelines because it does not contain a new firsthand experience with the business.” Last time I checked, firsthand meant being direct and personal, but what the hell do I know, I was only an English major. I’m not even going to go into the litany of allegations, and the lawsuits that Yelp is now dealing with, but what I am going to tell you gentle reader, is to stay the fuck away from Yelp. If they dumped my negative review of a restaurant, I’m sure they’re dumping plenty more. Tell you what…if you need a restaurant recommendation, forget the stupid apps and the dubious websites and simply do what my baby brother does…email me. At least you’ll know I’m not playing favorites with advertisers, cuz I have none.