Wine Dine and Play: What Is A Restaurant Review?

What Is A Restaurant Review?

Ratining restaurants cartoon by Yelp
Picture courtesy of Yelp














Subjective, Objective, Critics, and Consumer-Driven Reviews
Written in March 2017
Updated: August 2019
By Sean Overpeck (CFE)
**A full article and index glossary of restaurants, wines, recipes and travel for 
Wine Dine and Play are in the pages section above, or by following these links:



I have had some questions from readers and restaurants, expressing some concern about the ratings I have given, so I wanted to take a moment to explain that rating system. No one is perfect, and since starting this site in 2012, I have come along way, and continue to grow. To explain how I come up with my ratings, and the system I use in section 7, these questions need to be answered first…


Sections:

1.   What is a restaurant review? 
2.   Who and what is a food critic? 
3.   Why is there such a fascination in reading about what restaurants serve? 
4.   Michelin vs Yelp: Is one better than the other? 
5.   What is the difference in the many food and restaurant review sights out there, and What did the introduction of the food bloggers do to restaurant reviews and professional food critics? 
6.   What requirements and items are needed to qualify as a restaurant review? And Finally, 
7.   Is my webpage “Wine Dine and Play” any different from the other blogs, writers, and yelpers out there? 


These seven-question sections will be explored and answered in this article…



A famed food critic once wrote: 


“These days, everyone’s a critic. From opinionated bloggers and social media commentators of varying quality and reliability to highly-paid experts from prestigious magazines. Diners confront an avalanche of opinion when choosing restaurants, and those restaurants must satisfy not just a handful of notable celebrity critics, but a smartphone-wielding, Instagramming, Yelping covert armies.”




Section 1. What is a restaurant review?

A few decades ago I noticed that BC (Before Christ) as a historical dating term was replaced by the more non-secular dating acronym BCE (Before the Common Era). As a Chef and food writer, I like to use BCE as a Restaurant term (Before the Contemporary Eatery). To understand what is a restaurant review, you have to know what a restaurant is, and why there is a need to have such a thing as a review.  Before meatless Mondays and Taco Tuesday’s, the oldest known reordered place where people went to get food already prepared for them was a Thermopolium, a very popular fast-food style eatery, very popular during the hight of the Roman Empire, especially in Pompeii. That is until 79 AD (oops “CE”); Don’t know what happened? Watch the movie, it was not very good in my opinion - there I go being a critic again!!

The first fast-food restaurant from the Roman Empire city of Pompeii called a Thermopolium
What is a Restaurant Review / Thermopolium in Pompeii
The first modern-style restaurant was created in the year 1765 in Paris by a soup vendor named M. Boulanger. Above the front door, he is reported to have placed a sign stating: "Boulanger débite des restaurants divins" ("Boulanger provides divine sustenance"), so becoming the first businessman to use the word “restaurant.” He also had a Latin inscription; "Venite ad me omnes qui stomacho laboratis et ego vos restauro," ("Come to me, those who are famished, and I will give you sustenance”). Seventeen years later in 1782 the La Grande Taverne de Londres, the first luxury restaurant, was founded in Paris by Antoine Beauvilliers. On the other hand, Miss Rebecca Spang in a recent book believes that the true originator of the restaurant may be a man named Roze de Chantoiseau, who, by 1773, was running an establishment near to the Rue St Honoré in central Paris. 

A restaurant review as defined by Webster is a critical article or report, as in a periodical, on a book, play, recital, or the like; critique; evaluation. A general survey of something, especially in words; a report or account of something

A comment card is given to a customer of a restaurant for them to leave their thoughts on the meal or service
What is a Restaurant Review / Comment Cards

With the publication of the Almanach des gourmands in the early nineteenth century, Alexandre Balthasar Laurent Grimod de la Reynière invented the restaurant review and became one of the founding fathers of modern gastronomic discourse. He also created a jury of 17 gourmand friends who met weekly to taste food and rate restaurants. He faithfully reported their verdicts in the Almanach from 1802-1813.


Section 2. Who and what is a food critic?


Food critic Ego from Disney's Pixar film Ratatouille
What is a Restaurant Review / Ego from Disney's Pixar Ratatoiulle

A food critic is defined as a person who specializes in writing criticisms of food. Like theater and movie critics, food critics are supposed to provide thoughtful, well-informed, and unbiased information to the public, so that members of the public can make decisions about where to spend their money. Food critics primarily write about restaurants, ranging from fast food establishments to fashionable and very exclusive high-end places. 

Spending my adult life in the restaurant industry we feared, respected, and despised food critics as they alone had the power to make or break your restaurant. With their audience, they could book out your reservations for months, or send your employees to the welfare lines. The perfect example of this was Chef Bernard Loiseau (1951-2003) where the Disney Pixar film Ratatouille, based the ghost character of Auguste Gusteau off of Chef Loiseau. 

At the time, there were rumors that Loiseau’s restaurant, La Côte d’Or, in Saulieu, Burgundy, was in danger of losing its third star, and it was widely believed that the possibility of a demotion drove Loiseau to put a shotgun to his mouth, and pull the trigger. He also suffered from depression, was in debt and his wife was having an affair, so none of that helped his case.

Auguste Gusteau is the ghost chef character from Disney's Pixar movie Ratatouille
What is a Restaurant Review / Picture courtesy of Disney Pixar

After Almanach des gourmands, the next professional restaurant review publication was titled How we Dine, and on January 1, 1859, it appeared in the New York Times. The unnamed gentleman who wrote it is listed in the byline as “The Strong-Minded Reporter of the Times.” In the 1950s food critics and restaurant reviews came more into the mainstream and climaxed in the 1980s through the new millennium. The first major food writer in the United States was Craig Claiborne and in 1957 he became the first regular columnist and dining critic for the New York Times. Since that time there have been more than ten New York Time food writers with worldwide name recognition to include Ruth Reichl, a chef and currently the editor-in-chief of Gourmet Magazine, and Frank Bruni the first openly gay food critic. His latest food article (March 2017) is titled Donald Trump vs. the Food Snobs where an excerpt includes: “When did we turn into such food snobs here in America, land of the free and home of the Bloomin’ Onion? We fancy ourselves a more egalitarian, unpretentious people than our European counterparts, but we’re prigs these days about matters gastronomic.” 

As the 21st century came around, Sam Sifton was very critically acclaimed for his food writing, and now Pete Wells is the current food writer after Sam Sifton retired. Since the 1950s every major newspaper in the world, representing cities over 100k people have a column and writer dedicated to restaurant reviews and the critics that write for them. Some of the more acclaimed writers include Jay Rayner who writes for the Observer, a Guardian newspaper. Jonathan Gold a Pulitzer Prize-winning food critic who works for the Los Angeles Times. Giles Coren a writer for The Times, and Andy Hayler a food critic based out of London and a writer for Elite Traveler, who has visited every 3 star Michelin restaurant in the world, and written about them. Finally, there was Robert Michael Winner (1935-2013) a movie director of the classic Charles Bronson film Death Wish and a restaurant critic for the Sunday Times.

The star ratings given by critics from the Daily Mail Newspaper
What is a Restaurant Review / Picture courtesy of the Daily Meal




Section 3. 
Why is there such a fascination in reading about what restaurants serve?

Americans, Canadians, Australians, and Pacific Islands, South Africans, Many Asian nations, and citizens of several countries in Europe or South America have moved away from the traditional upbringings of our parents and grandparents where the husband works, and the wife stays home to clean, raise the children, and have dinner ready by 6pm. In today's society, both adult members of the household work full-time jobs and rarely is their time or energy after those long days work to prepare a meal. Even with the invention of the microwave over seventy years ago, cutting preparation and cooking times by eighty percent, and introducing us to crappy foods,  the trend to dining out on a more frequent basis was becoming part of normal things to do like shopping, and going to sporting events.

It used to be that going out to a restaurant was a special event reserved for the family to do once a month, or a special date with the wife or significant other. Money, as it has always been, went to the most important matters such as paying the bills. The money reserved for grocery shopping simply transferred over to the restaurant outings. As prices increased, people wanted to know that they were getting a good bang for their buck. They turned to restaurant reviews from their major newspapers or magazines. Media caught on to this trend and began doing shows on restaurants starting by grading them on their cleanliness, and focused on their food inspection reports of public health agencies. Once a few rats in Chinese restaurants were discovered, it put food establishments in check, as people were swayed by what the tv or newspapers report.

As time went on, the food critics restaurant publications led to greater purchases of weekend newspapers, and more tuning into certain television programs increasing ratings. Then two things happened that changed everything, and increased the number of restaurant diners across the globe. The first was the invention of the internet and the publications of restaurant reviews that became more accessible by anyone, and the rise of television food shows, starting in 1963 with Julia Childs. As web pages were built, the food critic could reach a wider audience by internet publication. In the past food critics and people who wrote for food magazines were mostly qualified individuals who were trained writers and employed by the mainstream media. Because of the growth of technology and the internet, everyone can be an expert in the field of being a food critic. This includes me, as I do not have a degree in writing or communication. Critics took great advantage of the technology shift as well, like Andy Hayler and Ruth Reichl, perfect success stories to internet reviews with their sites. Television shows and network channels like The Food NetworkThe Cooking Channel, and PBS Food, helped to make everyone who watched a thirty-minute episode either a food critic or a chef. Then came Trip Advisor, OpenTable, Yelp, and many others, where anyone could write anything they wanted. They learned new words and dish names from watching tv, then complained when their local restaurant didn’t provide the same quality that was broadcasted. 


Section 4. 
Michelin vs Yelp: Is one better than the other? What has social media done to the restaurant review?

As mentioned earlier, food critics can make or break you. Several people, I speak to say that the professional food critics are stuck up, full of themselves, and think that they are gods gift to restaurant diners. Like any person or group that has been put on such a high pedestal, it is hard to come back down to Earth. They know that they hold the power to destroy a restaurant if they don’t like a certain dish. When blogs were introduced they made it better and worse for restaurants at the same time. I came across a great article on the Michelin critic versus the yelper that is worth sharing called  Yelp vs the Food Critic

Here is an excerpt:
Michelin inspectors write stuffy, generic things like “The words posh and exclusive come to mind when admiring the spacious tables, corner banquettes, and stunning views.” Yelp reviewers tend to offer unimaginative, useless notes like “The location is great, service is superb, and the food is epic.” Why would anyone seek out advice on where to eat from people who can’t come up with anything better than that?

The Michelin guidebook was created in 1900 by brothers André and Édouard Michelin, eleven years after they created their rubber factory. Since that time there has been a yearly publication where some new restaurants are added, and others are bumped or downgraded. The Michelin rating system is broken down into 3 categories or stars. One is a very good restaurant in its category; two is for excellent cuisine, worth a detour; and three stars is for exceptional cuisine, worth a special journey. 

There are many sites on the web today and each of them has a separate rating system, and they all look for different experiences to determine their final review rating. I have a system for Wine Dine and Play that is different from The World's 50 Best Restaurants, OAD - Opinionated About Dining, or Elite Traveler. Blogs like mine or professional blog websites like Gayot are often mistaken for the same as those on Yahoo, Eater, or Chowhound. On most of those sites, you can just type in the restaurant and start writing whatever you want about you're dining experience, then publish. These are called consumer-written and driven reviews. These reviews can help a restaurant or hurt it as well, as many thousands of people read these reviews, and will decide to eat or skip that specific restaurant based on what a few people say. There are no filters. If the writer is a disgruntled employee or vendor, what is to stop them from writing horrible things and lying about an experience? The answer is nothing.  


Section 5. 
What is the difference in the many food and restaurant review sights out there, and What did the introduction of the food bloggers do to restaurant reviews and prestigious food critics?


Anyone can now write restaurant reviews using social media from Yelp, Trip Advisor, Zomato, Urbanspoon, totable, OpenTable, and many more sites
What is a Restaurant Review / Consumer-Driven Social Media Reviews

A chef once quoted: “we need food critics and bloggers in the industry to help to promote our businesses.” Before the days of the blogger and the yelper critic, the field of restaurant reviews was for the experts that have already been mentioned.


As noted above, sometimes even the basic consumer-written reviews and ratings which are becoming increasingly more popular, but are far less reliable like dine.com, Zomato, and others are becoming a scourge to restaurants and Chef’s alike. Take for example in 2013 when the Noma restaurant in Copenhagen, Denmark which became the #1 restaurant in the world three years in a row made 70 people sick from a norovirus caused by mussels they purchased. Consumer-driven reviews blamed the sickness on staff not washing their hands. From there the mainstream media picked up on what was written and reported the same thing when it was not the truth. The Danish food and health inspectors ripped the restaurant apart, and an item out of their control nearly destroyed them. This wasn’t Chipotle or Taco Bell, this was the #1 restaurant in the world…think about that for a moment!!

The same type of event happened in 2009 to more than 500 diners at Heston Blumenthal's flagship restaurant The Fat Duck, as they had also purchased some shellfish contaminated by sewage waste. 

Sometimes Chef’s blast bloggers who write bad reviews about them by making responses such as the Chef de cuisine at Giannino Trattoria in Milan responding to a review about their sister restaurant in Dubai when he said: “Wear a condom on your tongue to contain the orgasm of your ignorance.”

Or an extremely rude and uncalled for comment from Chef Claude Bosi a French Chef in London at the Restaurant Hibiscus wherein 2012 a blogger gave a bad review about one of his dishes, and he responded to the critic by saying: “Nice way to gain respect with chefs. I think you're a Cunt.” His restaurant closed in 2016.

Mario Batali mentions why he is wary of bloggers in one of his articles on Eater:
I do not really HATE anything or anybody, it takes too much energy to hate, and I would rather dog someone/thing sotto voce to the large audience than spend a lot of time hating them/it. But blogs live by different rules. Many of the anonymous authors who vent on blogs rant they're snarky vituperative from behind the smoky curtain of the web. This allows them a peculiar and nasty vocabulary that seems to be taken as truth by virtue of the fact that it has been printed somewhere. Unfortunately, this also allows untruths, lies and malicious and personally driven dreck to be quoted as fact”.


The moral of the story is that no matter if you're a professional working with the mainstream media, a personal or professional blogger, or a consumer-driven writer please blog responsibly, and respectfully. Not everyone is going to agree with your reviews all the time, from Chefs to foodies, but in the end as long as you're writing the truth, then what do you have to worry about. 


Section 6. 
What requirements and items are needed to qualify as a restaurant review? 


from Zero to five stars and how critics review restaurants
What is a Restaurant Review / Star ratings

All food reviewing is inherently subjective, but that doesn't mean that you should only comment on what you liked and didn't like.

The job of a food reviewer is to accurately convey the taste, texture, smell, and presentation of a restaurant's food. You not only comment on the food but also on the atmosphere, staff knowledge and attentiveness, the speed of service, the general impression of the restaurant or cafe. A great food review puts the reader at your table with you, allowing them to decide whether or not they want to visit the restaurant when they're done. I need to work on that more myself. Sometimes I feel that the reader sits with me, then gets lost and dines alone!

Today you do not need a communication, English, writing, or media degree to be a food critic. All you really need is a pen, paper, camera, and blog page. To make a review and your site successful, followed by a few things that I have learned from others, read about or learned the hard way, by writing a few bad reviews early on when I first started Wine Dine and Play in 2012. Here are a few pointers:
  1. Do some background research. You can find a lot online, or you can email or call the restaurant to get more information. You might find out that the Chef trained in Australia, and the Sommelier in Spain, or that they order their vegetables from local organic farms instead of Sysco
  2. Take good notes. Keep a notepad and pen handy, or use the text and note options on your cell phone. 
  3. Open your review with a compelling hook. The first sentence must grab the reader. I have failed here myself on several reviews but continue to improve. Promise a surprise, then don’t forget to deliver (done that too LOL). Give some interesting facts, quote some famous chefs or others, tell a personal story, a harmless joke, so that the reader can relate to you on a human level.
  4. Describe 3-5 dishes that you sampled, not all of them. I have also made this mistake where I enjoy a tasting menu then describe all 20 dishes, and have the reader yawning by the seventh dish. Pick the foods that made the greatest impression, then towards the bottom include the pictures of the others with a brief name and description. Don't just say if they were good or bad. Strive to give details and reasons, naming each specific dish. If you can’t remember, take a picture of the menu, or download it from their webpage. As an outline, you should try and talk about the following three things in every food review.  A. Presentation: How'd the dish look when it arrived, and how did it make you feel? Excited? Hungry? Like royalty? Like you were in your family's kitchen again? As soon as the food reaches your table, make some notes on the appearance. Is it clean and beautiful, or messy and tired? Remember, a food review is about the experience, not just the taste, so you need to capture all of these details. B. Taste: The big, obvious one, but that is only because it is so important. Use descriptive language, a metaphor, or a simile to put the reader in your shoes, or mouth. Name spices or flavors when you can. C. Texture: This usually includes the cooking process as well. Did it melt in your mouth? Was it still hot when it arrived? Was it juicy and tender or tough and brittle?
  5. Think about a restaurant's intentions, not just your personal preferences. A good food review is about helping other people find the restaurant, not just a platform to tell everyone your likes and dislikes i.e. Facebook. A good reviewer is as unbiased as possible, evaluating the restaurant as a whole. And if a chain restaurant that has a location in every major American city rates better than the local fine dining establishment that is privately owned, then that is the way that it is. 
  6. How do your preferences match the restaurants? If you hate seafood, but that is the restaurant's specialty, you may want to tone down the negative reviews of the salmon or tell your readers that you aren't generally a fan of fish. Better yet, don’t go to it at all, and review a steakhouse instead.
  7. Placement of information. Fill in the essential details of the restaurant in the beginning or end of the review. This is where you put in the average cost of a meal, the reservations time, and the address. You could also add a rating, such 3 out of 4 stars if you wanted. Many reviewers put this at the very end of the article.
  8. Restaurant ratings. Identify restaurants according to their quality, using notations such as stars or other symbols, or numbers. Stars are a familiar and popular symbol, with scales of one to three or five stars commonly used. 
  9. Rating criteria Different guides have their own criteria. Not every guide looks behind the scenes or at decorum. Others look particularly sharply to value for money. This is why a restaurant can be missing in one guide, while mentioned in another. Because the guides work independently, it is possible to have simultaneous multiple recognitions. Some prestigious review guides will not even include you no matter how wonderful you are because you do not purchase their sparkling water brand for example.


Section 7. 
Is this webpage “Wine Dine and Play” any different from the other blogs, writers, and yelpers out there?



As I have mentioned, every blogger, critic, professional, or consumer writes reviews for different reasons and motivations. The professionals get paid good money, plus get their food cost reimbursed, and the god complex grows when they are offered free food, drinks, hotels, football tickets, and much more. The consumer may write because they are happy with the local dive, or want to hurt them because they dislike an employee or manager. I do not get comps, and in the five years since starting my blog with over 500+ reviews (as of August 2019), I have not received a single dime in compensation. I write honest reviews based on “my” experiences. I try always to be objective and well rounded. Being impeccable with my word, never taking anything that happens at the restaurant personally, being honest in the review, never make assumptions, and to always write to the best of my knowledge. Here is my star rating chart:



Color-coded Star Rating Chart:
5 stars
 An Extraordinary Experience
Worthy of a Michelin rating
   94 - 100%
(105% with full bonuses added)
4 Stars
An Outstanding Experience 
(Top of its class)
87 - 93%
3 Stars
Exceeded All My Expectations
80 - 86%
2 Stars
Far Above the Average Experience
72 - 79%
1 Star
An Average Dining Experience
66 - 71%
0.5 Star
The Restaurant is a very Basic Experience
65 - 61%
0 Stars
ALERT: Poor, or Appalling Experience
(Do not waste your money or time)
60% or below



I give a rating of a 0 to 5 with five being the very best. The overall rating is based on 6 dining factors:


6 Factors That Determine The Star Rating
Score example:
Ambience:
6 of 12
Quality of the Food:
7 of 9
Plate Presentation:
6  of 10
Customer Service:
7.5  of 10
"Wow" Factor:
1 of 5
Alcohol and Other Beverage Selections:
4 of 10


Unlike other review sites; professional, blogger, or consumer-driven, my rating system is little different and everything is based on a special point system from the 6 factors above to get the overall color-coded star rating. A major difference in my reviews is if you get a 1-star rating, it doesn't mean your restaurant is bad, it just means the experience I had was average like most other chains or small mom and pops. Rarely do restaurants get a 4 or higher star rating from me which is an absolutely outstanding or extraordinary experience. In my 300+ restaurant reviews, less than 30 (10%) have achieved those star numbers. My formula for the six factors are as follows:

This rating scale is formulated by breaking down the individual experiences such as wine + other alcohol, plate presentation, service, ambience, Food quality plus a bonus wow factor, and combine them on a scale to give an overall final score. Only the “wow factor” has a rating of zero to five in my formula and is a bonus-driven score. In total, I have over fifty questions on the checklist that are given a point rating between 0-3 depending on what I feel is the importance of the question. They cover the entire experience. Below is a breakdown of the questions and how I issue the points.


Ambience: 
I rate ambience on several factors with the most important being cleanliness. From the dining room, kitchen (if seen), and the biggest - restrooms (see more score and information details below). Is the dining room organized, as far as not being too cluttered, or having too many chotskies? I look at the atmosphere, character, tones, artwork, and the design styles to see if they match the themes for the food. Does the music match the theme and ethnicity of the restaurant? Rock and roll in a Mexican restaurant would be an example of a no answer (unless it is Latin or Mexican rock and roll). Is there somewhere patrons can feel privacy so they can be intimate and away from prying eyes when on a date night? At dinner is the lighting dark enough to support the mood but bright enough to tell the fork, knife, and spoons apart? Do your patrons end up using the light on their phones to read the menu? Does the lighting match the theme? Are their interesting fixtures such as lanterns, chandeliers, or ornate objects matching the theme? (see The Mill Restaurant picture below). During the daylight hours, is natural lighting versus electric noticeable and is it a strong enhancer of enjoying a meal?


The Mill Restaurant in St. Petersburg, Florida has an ambience that focuses on the old American west  with new style hence the new American menu.
What is a Restaurant Review / The Mill Restaurant, St. Petersburg, Florida

Are the styles of furniture warm, inviting, fit the theme and comfortable? Is the wine room visible? Does your shopping bag or wives purse get its own stool or chair vs a hook installed on the bar? Is the toilet clean? If you have a unisex toilet, do ladies feel comfortable using it? If it is a family restaurant do the bathrooms offer a “clean” baby changing station. If you see an employee in the restroom with you, do they wash their hands correctly?  Restaurants spend a lot of money trying to improve the ambience, because they know it brings in more, and higher-end clients that spend more money.


Review Questions and Observations: Max Points Possible: Points Awarded: Points deducted:
Observation 1:   
(ambience
Factor #1
If factor does not apply mark max points at zero.



Dining Room Cleanliness, organization, chotskies, etc 
1


Restrooms: toilets, floor, sinks. (hand wash soap, towels). Does it smell clean? Changing stations?
3


Atmosphere, artwork, chotskies - are they themed to match the style of the restaurant, or is it all overdone?
1


Is the music matching the restaurant? Is it pleasing or a cause for headaches?
1


Lighting and natural light. Does it match the theme? Is it too bright or dark? Daylight = enough windows or dark?
1


Are their lanterns, chandeliers, or ornate objects matching the restaurant theme?
1


Did I notice if the employees wash their hands, and do they do it correctly?  (ServSafe method)
1


Furniture: Are booths, chairs comfortable? No wobbling tables. Are their Private booths or dining areas?
1


Is the carpet clean, or if hardwood, is it polished? 
1


Totals for section 1 ambience
11
0
0







When I do restaurant reviews, a good portion of the ambience score comes from a quick inspection of the bathrooms or a glimpse of the expeditors line. For restaurants that use electric hand dryers either to save money or to cut back on the waste from the paper in landfills, I applaud either business practice. But it is important to have both. Being in the foodservice industry, food safety, and overall sanitation is a high concern for me. Several people out in the world today are disgusting. They use the restroom especially “number two,” and leave the restroom without even washing their nasty hands. Plus most of those people that do wash their hands do not wash correctly or good enough to prevent illness and the spreading of germs. 

You may think, “What is the big deal?.”  For me, it's the sink handle and the door handle are both issues. The sink handle is touched by hands that came right from the “number two” stall, so it is contaminated until your hands are lathered with soap and hot water. I use a towel to turn the sink off to avoid recontaminating my hands after cleaning them. Once your hands are clean and dry, the door handle is still contaminated because of disgusting people that do their business and do not wash their hands, then exit the bathroom. Employees use this bathroom, and hopefully, the company has a strong policy for washing hands to avoid spreading foodborne illnesses like the Norovirus at the Olympics in 2018 that got worldwide attention or the almost daily amount of people across the USA and world that fall ill or die from them.

The Center for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that each year 48 million people get sick from a foodborne illness, 128,000 are hospitalized, and 3,000 die in the United States alone. So when the employee washes their hands correctly and gets ready to head back to the kitchen and work, he grabs a door handle that was touch by a nasty person that did a number two and did not wash their hands. This is why for me it is a big deal and no matter how environmentally conscious you are, you need to always have a paper option of some kind as an extra measure to prevent the spread of foodborne illness, or install a door that swings outward instead of being pulled. For the sinks, you can install a hands-free system to avoid contamination and save on paper towel waste as well. 


The great costs of causing a foodborne illness that can lead to lawsuits, bad press, closure, fines, and even jail.
What is a Restaurant Review / Cost of a Foodborne Illness


At the end that does cost money, but what does it cost if you do make someone sick. How much money do you have to pay to lawyers, the bad press that will keep people away, the employees that you have to terminate for lack of business, and much more? You could even face criminal charges if anyone dies. Bad press and closures have happened to a number of restaurant out there to include the number one retsaurnt in the world called Noma; Chef René Redzepi new Nordic cookery style took the world by storm and hit the World’s Best Restaurant list four times in 2010, 2011, 2012, and 2014. An outbreak of the Norovirus from an employee made 63 people sick and not only cost him the #1 in the world slot, but he shut down and re-opened in a new location three years later.


The norovirus is something you do not want. Caused by fecal contamination of food especially shellfish.
What is a Restaurant Review / Norovirus


The food quality rating:
“Quality,” according to the 1970 Yearbook of Agriculture, “is the measure or expression of goodness.” What distinctive characteristics does the food offer? Is the food of a high grade, or cheaper quality? Where is the food from? Is it local or organic? Farm to Table? Is it a natural product or a Genetically Modified Organism? Is it a rare item that you normally don’t see on many restaurant menus? External factors of food appearance like size, shape, color, gloss, and consistency play key parts. Texture, and flavor; Do they track foodborne illness outbreaks, and react accordingly? Is the food handled properly? Do they order too much food, and try to pawn it off on the Sunday and Monday night specials?


Is the food prepared safely, following the US Food Code guidelines, or if dining outside the United States, their countries guidelines? Are the items offered of good nutritional value, taking nutrition factors into account. Do they cater to people with allergens? Did the Chef pair or match distinctive ingredients together, and did he send my palette on an adventure?


Observation 2:     
(food quality
Factor #2
If factor does not apply mark max points at zero.
Max Points Possible: Points Awarded: Points deducted:
Do they order their food from major Food companies or local/in-state businesses and farms?
1


Is the food of good or high-quality and sustainable, or a lower and cheaper product to save money?
1


Are the fruits and vegetables organic or from local organic farms?
2


If not is the restaurant aware that their product is a GMO? If so, do they care to change it?
1


Do they have rare items featured on the menu that you normally don’t see like Ostrich, Kangaroo, Blue Fagu, or Jamaican coffee for example? 
1


How is the appearance of the food, textures?
(NOT GRADED - JUST OBSERVED)
0
0
0
Do they track foodborne illness outbreaks, and react accordingly? 
1


Is food handled properly - avoiding cross-contamination? Are employees washing their hands that you noticed? (score 1 point)
1


Is the US Food code followed in regard to nutrition information? 
(If the restaurant is outside the USA, then do they follow their countries food code guidelines?)
1


Does the restaurant cater to people with allergens or religious preferences?
1


Did the Chef send my palette on an adventure?
1


Totals for section 2 - food quality
11
0
0



The plate presentation:  
Food and plate presentation is defined as “the art of modifying, processing, arranging, or decorating food to enhance its aesthetic appeal.” Art; Everyone has different tastes, so put your feelings aside and look at the plate from the artist's viewpoint. What is the artist/chef trying to express? The food quality score will go hand in hand with the plate presentation. If you know in advance that it is a good quality product, then you will expect it to be presented the same way. Things to look for include how is the food put together and displayed as it is brought out? Does it look unique, or have interesting garnishments? Is any dish presented action style at the table or carved? Did the fish have to be deboned in front of you? Does it make you look twice and go “wow”? Was Molecular Gastronomy used to increase the quality of the presentation? Was the soup brought out with the sauce poured into it table-side?  Was good china, and a variety of shaped dishes used for each course, or was it cheap and basic plates? The same goes for wine, cocktail glasses, and cutlery.

The presentation of the food as it is delivered is just as if not as of great importance as the texture and taste.
What is a Restaurant Review / Presentation


Was the food delivered all at the same time or to the ladies first? Some people dislike dollops of food all over the plate-like my wife for example, however, if each dollop goes with the dish and adds more flavor to the dish, then I support the dollops. Were sauces used and presented correctly in swirl or drizzle patterns, or are they just slapping it onto the plate? Is there an appealing high contrast of colors on the plate, or are you served plain oatmeal? Was the food hot, or delivered cold? Did your plate have smudges or fingerprints on them? Did the glasses have dry watermarks from not being properly dried? This is usually caused by air-drying.


Portions are important and is part of the presentation to a dish when writing a review
What is a Restaurant Review / Portions

Were the portions huge and did they overload the plate? Or were they smaller, allowing you to enjoy the next course without your stomach exploding? Was the rule of odds observed? Meaning did the dish Have an odd number of elements on it, which is more visually appealing than having an even number. It creates the impression that a piece of food is being framed by the others around it. Was the food layered to add height to the dish? Were trickier dishes present in an appetizing way, like pasta being swirled instead of laying flat with a sauce on top?


The Rule of odds states that odd numbered items on a plate of food delivered is more appealing and presentable to the eye than having even numbers which will bore the brain.
What is a Restaurant Review / Rule of Odds
Were modern trends being followed or did the menu remind you of 1980? Modern trends include landscape plating, free-form plating, organic plating, and exotic food garnishments. Were little appetizing touches added to the dish beyond a lemon for the fish as an example, like flowers, berries or caviar? Did the color, flavor, or texture overpower the dish? Finally did the dessert taste even better than it looked? 

A plate presented at Joel Robuchon in Paris shows an example of beauty, smaller portion, and rule of odds.
What is a Restaurant Review / LA TABLE de Joël Robuchon, 2010

Observation 3:    
(plate presentation)   
Factor #3
If factor does not apply mark max points at zero.
Max Points Possible: Points Awarded: Points deducted:
Does it look unique, or have interesting garnishments? Were little appetizing touches added?
1


Is any dish presented action style at the table or carved? 
(see wow factor for bonus points) - not scored in this section.
0
0
0
Was molecular Gastronomy used to increase the quality of the presentation?
1


Soup presentation - was it poured or were their additions made to it at delivery?
1


China, utensils, stemware & other glass: Were good quality plates, forks, wine, cocktail, or beverage glasses used? 
(1 point if yes)
1


Were dollop garnishes, or sauces used correctly and neatly?
1


Is there an appealing high contrast of colors on the plate, or was the dish plain?
1


Was food at a good temperature? Hot food hot, cold food cold?
1


Did the stemware or other glass have dried watermarks or other stains? Did you plate have smudges or fingerprints on them? (1 point if not)
1


Portion sizes: Too much or too little? 
SUBJECTIVE REMARKS ONLY - NOT SCORED
0
0
0
Was the rule of odds observed? Rule of Odds states that having an odd number of objects in an image will be more interesting and pleasing. For even numbers, your brain would have an easy time "organizing" the objects leading to symmetry and dullness.
1


Was the food layered to add height to the dish? Were trickier dishes present in an appetizing way?
1


Were modern plating trends being followed? Or did the trend follow the theme of the restaurant? Score 0.5 for either answer, no score for no trend at all
1


Did the color, flavor, or texture overpower the dish? 
(1 point awarded if not)
1


Did the dessert taste better than it looked? (Subjective)
1


Totals for section 3 - plate presentation
13
0
0



Customer service:
It can make or break a restaurant just like bad food can. You can have the best quality of foods, plate presentations that put Escoffier to shame, the most beautiful of ambience, and a fantastic wine or bar list. However, if you have a service staff that is not attentive to the needs of the guest, or has an unclean uniform, smells like a cigarette after returning from a break, does not act professionally, or lacks knowledge on the menu, food, and restaurant then you have a major problem.

Customer service at a restaurant is another very important aspect to the over-all experience received while dining at a restaurant.
What is a Restaurant Review / Customer Service

The factors that are crucial for obtaining customer loyalty are waiter politeness, waiter promptness, and appearance. Especially in a finer dining restaurant, no one wants the gentleman server to have long grungy hair, and talk like he is your hippy drunk neighbor. You want the staff to be clean-cut, professional, and concentrate on selling, especially if you are paying a big price for your expereince. You want to smell the wine and the food, not the smell of cigarettes from the servers clothes.

A Hippy is fine when at Woodstock, but not when you are eating at anime or fine dining restaurant. When you pay top dollar you expect top quality, not men with long hair, bad conversation and smelling of cigarettes.
What is a Restaurant Review / Woodstock 1969 photo

Did they explain what was in the dish, how to consume it? Did they ask you questions about allergens? This is now a law in Europe. Did they take the time to learn your sir name from the reservation computer? Did the Sommelier, steward, or server recommend a pairing beverage with the food choices? Did the server pull your chair out for you to sit? Did they collect your dinner jackets or coats?

Were the correct utensils used for each course, or did you have to reuse the same dirty ones from the previous dish? Did you get the correct wine or cocktail glass for your specific drink order? When ordering a second drink, did you get a clean glass, or have to reuse the same one? Did someone walk with you to your car holding an umbrella while it rained? When going to the restroom did someone just point where it was, or actually escort you? Were the ladies served first, then head of the table, or even fancier, did everyone at the table have their plates presented at the same time?

Is your wine glass primed? Meaning did the Sommelier or wine steward properly open, smell, and pour a tasting of the wine for you. When you went to the restroom or away from the table and returned, did the server refold your napkin or present clean cutlery? Did a server offer fresh ground pepper or cheese to go with your salad or entrees? A great server can bring a customer back over and over again even if the food is mediocre. People go to restaurants for the show and the service. They go to feel as if they are special, to be waited on, and to be called sir or ma’am. They may think they are experts because they watched a reality tv show on the Food Network, but what needs to be understood is that as amazing as kitchen staff and Chef’s maybe, the front of the house is just as great.


As a side note to remember when in the United States, gratuity is not always added automatically or pooled with the other employees like it is in other parts of the world. So the server, like a car salesman, hopefully, will work harder to get a better commission.


Observation: 
(customer service
Factor #4
If factor does not apply mark max points at zero.
Max Points Possible: Points Awarded: Points deducted:
Did the Maitre’D or Host seat you promptly according to your reservation? Were they respectful, and did they cater to your needs?
1


Was the server prompt, polite, and was their uniform clean? Were they personally clean, or did they have bad body odor, or smell like a cigarette shop? Were they clean-shaven (males) long hair neatly folded (females)?
1


Did they explain what was in the dish, how to consume it? Or was your server just an order taker similar to a fast-food employee?
1


Did the server have knowledge of the menu, know the specials, give recommendations and ask you questions about allergens? 
2


Did they take the time to learn your sir name from the reservation computer? Or ask for your name and use it throughout the evening?
1


Did the Sommelier, steward, or server recommend a pairing beverage with the food choices?
1


Did the server pull your chair out for you to sit? 
(0 if sitting at a booth)
1


Did they collect your dinner jackets or coats? 
1


Were the correct utensils used for each course, or did you have to reuse the same dirty ones from the previous dish?
1


Did you get the correct wine or cocktail glass for your specific drink order? When ordering a second drink, did you get a clean glass, or have to reuse the same one?
1


If it rained, did someone walk with you to your car holding an umbrella? When going to the restroom did someone point the way, or escort you? 
NO SCORE - JUST AN HONORABLE MENTION IF THEY DID
0
0
0
Were the ladies served first?
(If dining alone, did you observe other tables where ladies were served first?)
1


If ordering a bottle, was your wine glass primed? 
(If not ordering a bottle, observe other tables wine procedure)
1


Was your napkin refolded, or clean cutlery presented upon return to your table?
1


Did a server offer fresh ground pepper or cheese to go with your salad or entrees?
1


Did the restaurant offer free valet, or offer to call a taxi when the meal was complete?
(Notate in the review)
0
0
0
Totals for section 4 - customer service
15
0
0







The wine, beer, liqueur, and other beverage selections:
This score can vary from restaurant to restaurant, and I base the ratings not just on the quality of the wines and other liqueurs offered, but also the selections. Wine, craft beer, and small-batch distilleries have grown in popularity everywhere around the world these days and the demand for them has increased tenfold. Distributors in every major city whether they work for a large named company like Empire or a small boutique company can provide services to any restaurant if that restaurant wants it. Some restaurants will choose to have very basic wine and beer list, and that to me, will lower the point factors for the for this section and affect the overall star rating. If they make an effort however, to have even a small selection with variety such as a cult or boutique wine from Napa California, a good Pinot from Willamette Oregon, a rare but inexpensive Bordeaux from France, a Shiraz from a small named Stellenbosch winery in South Africa, a great blend from the Yarra Valley Australia, or a Barolo from the Piemonte in Italy, then that rating will shoot up higher on my review list. 

The Clos Du Marquis Bordeaux wine as an example of judging and critiquing a restaurant for have a good or poor selection of fine wines. This is an example of a good selection.
What is a Restaurant Review / Clos Du Marquis

If they offer beers from the big names as well as from local distilleries, or hard to find foreign beers, then that builds up points. Everywhere you go, you expect to see Bud Light and Corona, but in my home of St. Petersburg for example, we have wonderful local craft beers like Cigar City Brewing. If restaurants just make a small effort to go beyond Johnnie Walker, and offer a variety of single malt scotches from distilleries other than Glenlivet, then they are not only catering to the plain jane people that only drink butter bombs like Kendall Jackson, but to the smaller group that also enjoys rare Cognac like Louis XIII. They will, in the beginning, spend more money, but in the end, make a lot more for being diverse. What if you don’t drink alcohol? Does the restaurant offer more than just soda and iced tea? Do they get creative and make a variety of non-alcoholic drinks?


Observation: 
(beverages, Bar, Cocktails
Factor #5
If factor does not apply mark max points at zero.
Max Points Possible: Points Awarded: Points deducted:
Was the bartender attentive? Did The cocktail server or bartender give you recommendations, or were they just order-takers?
1


Was the wine list small or large? SUBJECTIVE COMMENT ONLY - YOUR IDEA OF LARGE OR SMALL MAY BE DIFFERENT TO SOMEONE ELSE
0
0
0
Did they offer the same big named mainstream wines that everyone offers, or did they focus more on boutique and cult wines?
3


Did they offer just wines from the state, wine region, or country you dined in, or did they offer a good number of Old and New World selections?
1


Did the beer list include local breweries, or hard to find beers? Was there a good variety offered?
2


Was there a diverse liquor selection beyond the basic vodka’s, gins, and whiskey’s you always see?
1


Was there a good listing of Scotches, especially single-malts? (More than Johnny Walker and Glenlivet like most places have)
1


Was the after-dinner drink menu diverse and did it offer good quality cognacs, ports, whiskey’s, and other liqueurs?  
1


Totals for section 5 - beverage
10
0
0
Notes:














The “wow” factor (BONUS SECTION): 
I like to call it this as it is a quality or feature that to me was extremely impressive, that you don’t see in a normal dining experience. It can be something that is funky, surprising, or pleasing. It has to be something that just makes me go “wow”. It can be a combination of an outstanding plate presentation, ambience, or something the service staff did where the score carries over to here. It could be an action station where the fire is used like a table-side banana fosters, Crêpe Suzette, or a pasta presentation like the “Bada Bing” in the video below from Gratzzi Italian Grille in St. Petersburg, Florida:


It could also be a dessert or other table-side presentation where the chef comes out, like this video below at Alinea, in Chicago, where the Executive Chef Michael Bagale presented the Pâte Sucrée with feuilletine and built it at the table. This is from my visit in 2013:


It is also very pleasant when the Chef comes to the table. In several restaurants, it's normal for him to walk by and do a quick meet and greet, but at Enigma Restaurant in Dubai, UAE for example, the Chef came out with each course and explained them in detail, then came back to see what I thought after a few bites. He was busy and could have had a server explain the dish, but he wanted to do it. That extra push of customer service is a nice wow in my book. This was one of the things that pushed them to a 4-star rating for the review. good job Chef Yunus Emre Aydin.

A soup presented with elegance by Chef Aydin at the Enigma Turkish restaurant in Dubai, UAE
What is a Restaurant Review / The soup that Chef Aydin presented at Enigma, Dubai

This "wow" rating is also the hardest to get high marks for, and that is why it is based on a scale of 0-5 instead of ten. Even the bar can add extra points to the overall score by doing something with the drinks like you saw in the movie Cocktail, or other wine or mixology specials, that goes above and beyond what you would expect. Your wine menu could be delivered to you on an I-Pad instead of paper. This category is very subjective and it will not lower the overall star rating if they get one point or zero, but it will raise the star rating if they managed to do something unexpected.

Observation: 
(Wow Factor Bonus Section)   Factor #6
If factor does not apply mark max points at zero.
Max Points Possible: Points Awarded: Points deducted:
Did the restaurant have any action stations or carving stations?
1

0
Was there a presentation table-side (salad, fish deboning, flambé, or dessert presentation)?
1

0
Was their a plate presentation that blew me away?
1

0
Did the service staff (Maitre’D, bar, server, manager, chef) do something that went above and beyond?
1

0
Was there something unique about the ambience that grabbed your attention?
1

0
OTHER OBSERVATIONS:
(elaborate below)
0
0
0
Total Wow Bonus:
5
0
0




Notes on another observation point: 













Finally the overall star rating from Wine Dine and Play. 
I look at all the factors above, add up the total points, including the bonus section and from there come up with the final rating:

Formula Factor Conclusions and Overall Ratings Max Points Possible: Total Points Awarded: Total Points deducted:
Ambience
11
0
0
Food quality
11
0
0
Plate presentation
13
0
0
Customer service
15
0
0
Alcohol and other beverages
10
0
0
Total regular points awarded
60
0
0
Total percentage — less the Bonus

0

“Wow” factor BONUS
5
0
0
Total bonus percentage

0

Total percentage and bonus for a final star rating

0

Stars Awarded (see chart below) 0 - 5
?
xxxxxxxxxxx



* 65 total points are possible with bonuses

* I take the total points awarded, and dived it by the maximum points.

* A perfect restaurant will get 60 points as the other 5 are bonus “wow factor” points.


Example:
  • A Local Italian restaurant earned 51 points out of 60 without the “wow” bonuses included: 
  • (51÷60 = 85%
5 stars
 An Extraordinary Experience
Worthy of a Michelin rating
   94 - 100%
(105% with full bonuses added)
4 Stars
An Outstanding Experience 
(Top of its class)
87 - 93%
3 Stars
Exceeded All My Expectations
80 - 86%
2 Stars
Far Above the Average Experience
72 - 79%
1 Star
An Average Dining Experience
66 - 71%
0.5 Star
The Restaurant is a very Basic Experience
65 - 61%
0 Stars
ALERT: Poor, or Appalling Experience
(Do not waste your money or time)
60% or below


Example Continued: The local Italian restaurant got 51 points from the six-factor totals which worked out to 85% so they will be rated at 3 stars on my list, which was not only above the average but exceeded all of my expectations for a wonderful dining experience, higher than most other restaurants.




Comments from my readers:


WHY DID YOU RATE A CHAIN BETTER THAN THE LOCAL MOM AND POP?

I get this question from time to time. Taking all of the information and charts, formulas, and factors from above, let me break down two previous reviews that I have done and shown you how I came to this conclusion. Let's take a local Key West, Florida restaurant called Nine One Five, and compare it side by side with a chain restaurant you may have eaten at called Bonefish Grill which I rated much higher. This is why Nine One Five got a lower rating compared to Bonefish Grill
Conclusion:

Based on the point system above the factor clearly, show that Nine One Five had a grand sum of 32 out of 50 points and Bonefish Grill had 42 points out of 50 possible. That breaks down to Nine One five being in the percentage range of a 1-star rating and Bonefish Grill being 4 stars. You may have eaten at Bonefish and had a horrible experience, then eaten at Nine One Five and had the best meal ever. I don’t know. I am basing the review off of my experience. If these restaurants or other critics feel that my review is unjust or not fair, then invite me back, and I’ll come in when you least expect it and review you once again. If you rate higher, then I will adjust and amend the review to show that.




TECHNICAL UPDATE: The factor and scorecards above have changed in the past year to a newer more condensed scorecard. Today Nine One Fives score of 32 points would rate them at 0.5 or half of a star instead of 1, and the 42 points for Bonefish Grill would rate them at 3 stars instead of 4.







You can also use these sites for reference and to see other critics and their categories:

The Best Restaurants Near Me Trip Advisor Restaurant Finder
Elite Traveler’s Guide Top 100 in the World
OAD Guide Top 100 in the USA
Michelin Guides Best of Europe
OpenTable Top 100 in America
Los Angeles Times The Top 101 in L.A.
Yelp Top 100 In USA
Timeout.com List 100 Best New York Restaurants
Australia’s top 100 The Best Down Under
New Zealand’s Best The Top 15 Restaurants
Latin America top 50 By San Pellegrino
Best Restaurants in Dubai 7 Best in Dubai
Best of Canada The Top 100 up North 
Gayot Best Restaurants List Best Restaurants by City and Category
The EATER 38 Top Places to Eat Where in the USA to Eat This Year

There are many more guides out there,  but these will help sum up a world of travel for your next dining adventure. 



You can also use these sites for reference on the top wine categories:
Wine Spectator top 100 
Food & Wine worlds best wine tasting experience 
Uncorked.com worlds the best-of list 
Wines of the World best list 
Forbes top wine list 
Weekly wine buys by Robert Parker
The Tasting Panel’s best wines list
The Wine Enthusiast top 100 list
The best Chilean wines list 
Matthew Jukes top 100 of Australia 
Top California wines list  
Top Oregon wines list 
Taylor and Norton best German wines list  
The best Spanish wines list
The best 10 wines from Argentina
I hope this article was helpful to you in understanding how my rating and review system works and compares to my fellow food critics out there doing the same






Who is John Galt?



TTFN



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