Whose Restaurant Reviews Do You Trust?


By Robert McGarvey


Hungry? Where do you eat? The question gets sharper when you are on the road and you have no personal ideas about where to eat in, say, Phoenix and neither do you know who to ask. Where do you turn?

My consistent recommendation is don’t eat at hotel restaurants and that means you have to venture out on the town.


New research, from CVENT and TripAdvisor, insists that the resource we trust is TripAdvisor. Said TripAdvisor about the finding: “The new CVENT survey, which analyzed the dining behaviors of more than 9,500 consumers across key markets in the US and Europe, revealed that TripAdvisor is overwhelmingly regarded as the most influential online dining resource compared to Google, Facebook and Yelp.”

I am on record as changing my position on TripAdvisor, shifting from favorable to unfavorable, largely because of a lot of deleted negative reviews at the service.  Read the story.  

I also see TripAdvisor primarily as a hotel review site.  I see it as having a secondary interest in restaurants.

This survey paints a different picture.  TripAdvisor’s goal, obviously, is for travelers to look first to it for advice on where to eat.

Should we?

Or maybe the question is, do we?

TripAdvisor’s data say we do.

According to it:

94% of us in the US said online reviews influenced our decisions about where to dine.

60% of us said online photos influenced our decision.

90% of us – !! – said TripAdvisor inspired us to try new restaurants.

When asked what sites we used to research restaurants when at home, 78% of us pointed to TripAdvisor.  41% said Yelp. 28% said Google. 12% said Facebook.

When traveling, 93% said they used TripAdvisor.  32% said Yelp. 24% said Google. 7% said Facebook.

How accurate are TripAdvisor restaurant reviews? According to this survey, “When compared with Google, Facebook, and Yelp, up to 94% of respondents in participating markets said that TripAdvisor provides the more accurate, trustworthy, helpful, and descriptive restaurant reviews and photos.”  

Yelp managed a pathetic 11% trustworthy rating.  Google reviews snared 3% trustworthy. Facebook at 1%.

So is the verdict that clear? Should we dine with TripAdvisor?

When I looked at TripAdvisor’s rankings for best pizza in Phoenix, I’ll admit they aren’t bad.  I’d put Bianco in front of Pomo but Pomo’s pies are excellent.  Cibo, also in the top five, is quite good too (and a more charming setting).

When I looked for the best deli in New York, however, the results are puzzling. Katz’s ranked 13. Something called Pret a Manger ranked 14.  Sarge’s ranked higher than Katz’s at 11. In first is Murray’s Cheese – excellent but no deli. Number two is Russ and Daughters, also excellent but no deli. The resulting list has some good suggestions but often not actually delis. 

When I searched for best restaurant in Sedona, TripAdvisor ranked Elote Cafe #3 and Dahl and Di Luca #7 and I’d score both higher.

As I searched through more restaurant rankings in TripAdvisor, I came to a conclusion: the rankings generally were better than I expected them to be – but I still wouldn’t use them.  To me, reviews are useless unless I know the reviewer and his/her tastes. I am agreeable with Pete Wells’ reviews in the New York Times, with Jonathan Gold in Los Angeles, with Michael Bauer in San Francisco, with Tom Sietsema in Washington DC, and my advice to you is find a reviewer whom you trust in the cities you frequently visit and go with their suggestions.

In Rome I’ll follow the advice of Joe Brancatelli and Katie Parla.  

In Dublin I’ll probably follow my own advice.  

If I’m looking for a good burger – and often that’s exactly what I eat on the road (unless I am scrupulous in minding my health) – I’d use Ralph Raffio’s JoeSentMe burger guide (and, yeah, I share an unnatural fondness for White Castle)

The reviewer can be a co-worker, friend or family member too – if your tastebuds match up with theirs.  That’s key: it doesn’t matter if a reviewer is a great writer. What matters is alignment of tastes.

With the online services I just don’t trust the taste of the people who post reviews and, you know what, I just about never post such reviews myself.  Who does those reviews as a hobby? Not many people known to me.

That’s why my advice is: Find trustworthy people in the towns where you are going to be eating. That’s key.

Do I ignore the online review sites? Generally, yes.  But I usually eat well because I know who to trust.

1 thought on “Whose Restaurant Reviews Do You Trust?”

  1. Zagat used to be my gold standard – consistently reliable even if the scale was different in different markets – (ie. a 25 in New York was a lot better than a 25 in a less sophisticated market) – but Google has positively ruined Zagat. I also find Trip Advisor completely unreliable because of what is noted above – who knows the level of sophistication of the reviewer? I use Trip Advisor for suggestions about where to go but then try to judge from the restaurant’s own website (menu, overall tone, etc) whether I might actually like it myself

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