Who Dares Visit A Restaurant Without Reading Online Reviews First?

The best satire is deeply rooted in reality. That’s why an article from this week’s issue of the Onion shook us to the core. “Brave Woman Enters Restaurant Without First Looking It Up Online,” the headline blared. At Consumerist HQ, we asked each other: is there really anyone out there who is so bold and reckless that they would do such a thing?

It’s 2012, people. We have Yelp apps. There is no excuse. Or is there? Where do you draw the line? Is it okay to visit a new location of a trusted chain without checking reviews or asking around? How about a new restaurant from a particular chef you like? What if someone else is paying?

Brave Woman Enters Restaurant Without First Looking It Up Online [The Onion]


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  1. Brynden says:

    I like to form my own opinions when I try a new place. I don’t want to go in with a skewed perception.

    • redskull says:

      Since most people in my city go to Olive Garden for authentic Italian cuisine, I doubt their reviews would be of much worth anyway.

      • nugatory says:

        Most of the people around me are like this. I try to drag some of them out of their shells, to responses like “I don’t like noodles, so I’m not going to eat Vietnamese”.

      • Joseph S Ragman says:

        Sorry to burst your bubble, but the Olive Garden is NOT authentic Italian cuisine. Not by a long shot.

  2. Banished to the Corner says:

    Wow, thanks for making me feel completely weird.

    I have never looked at a review for any restaurant. I look at the menus, or if I’m visiting a place where I don’t speak/read the local language, I look at the pictures. Life is full of adventure, sometimes the food is great, sometimes not.

    I do admit that if a restaurant is empty or near empty, I tend to avoid it.

    • Brynden says:

      I made the mistake once of going into a Mexican restaurant that was empty to try it. The service was pretty good but the food was bad. I didn’t get sick from it but I just remember how bad it tasted. Never again will I go there.

    • pecan 3.14159265 says:

      Life is full of adventure…but I hate spending money for a meal that turns out to be terrible, and time I can’t get back. So I avoid the bad adventure by looking at reviews, so I can work on having a good adventure.

    • SmokeyBacon says:

      Don’t feel weird – I am exactly the same way in that I too have never looked at the reviews for a restaurant online. I never thought about the empty or not thing but now I will probably keep that in mind (depending on the time of day of course – if you get there super early then it might be a reason it is empty, not because the food is bad).

  3. PragmaticGuy says:

    I go but only if the coupon they offer is worth it. And I’m not talking Groupon, I’m talking a coupon that I get for free in some local hand out.

  4. MaxH42 needs an edit button says:

    I read reviews all the time…but they give me ideas of what new places to try when there are a lot of choices (like when traveling), or what dishes or issues (slow service, slow kitchen) to watch for. I have no problem just trying a place if it’s convenient and I’m hungry.

  5. Loias supports harsher punishments against corporations says:

    I never check reviews. My own experience is my review.

  6. Stiv says:

    “No excuse? Is it okay? Reckless?”

    Lord, I wouldn’t want to be so scared of life that I’d never want to try a new restaurant without having a bunch of people I don’t even know validate and approve the experience for me first.

    But to each their own.

    • JollySith says:


    • MuleHeadJoe says:

      It’s a mod hipster thing … you know, skinny jeans, Converse sneakers, wears a tie over a t-shirt, always has their iFone in hand with earbuds … walking around they use audible “turn by turn” GPS just to tell them how to get to the other side of the street whilst axing Siri if that restaurant over thar is a good place to eat ….

    • Cor Aquilonis says:

      But, how will you know what to think and what opinions to have if other people don’t tell you?

      /sarcasm – for pete’s sake.

  7. pecan 3.14159265 says:

    I don’t care at all whether you think a certain entree is delicious, because that’s really subjective, but I look for complains about noise and wait service. A lot of times, people are just whiners but if I see a bunch of pretty reasonable complaints, I’m more wary of booking reservations there, especially we’re taking family members to dinner.

    • pecan 3.14159265 says:

      When it comes to whether something tastes good, I tend to trust food critics more than I trust yelp reviews.

    • Smiling says:

      I am mainly looking to see if it is basically the worst place in the universe. If it has terrbile reviews all around, I skip it.

  8. RadarOReally has got the Post-Vacation Blues says:

    I almost never read restaurant reviews. I figure most sites like Yelp are so full of paid reviews that they’re not really much help. Also, I find that my tastes are often counter to mainstream.

    My worry is that I have a compromised immune system now, and I’ve worked in restaurants, so I know the kind of stuff that happens “out back”. I rarely go to new restaurants now, just stick with my old standbys.

    Before, I would just shrug and say “what have I got to lose but a few bucks?” And I’d try it.

  9. DataRaider says:

    I wonder if they are being fired for having a record, or for lying on their applications about their criminal past. I know the financial industry has to do background checks on all new employees and this includes having the FBI run fingerprints (I work in the industry and have had it done), so they will see your past. I have already seen new hires fired for lying about it.

  10. Kuri says:

    People will give a terrible review over the stupidest things, so no, I never read reviews.

  11. kranky says:

    In our town, the Yelp reviews follow the 80/20 rule. 80% of the reviews are on the same 20% of places, the trendy joints in town. I think they do it just to make sure all the other reviewers know they went to the “cool place”, because after 100 or so reviews, chances are you have nothing of substance to add.

    So I tend to use online reviews more for when I go out of town, just to make sure I don’t end up at a horrific place out of ignorance. If I was a foodie and actively searched for places with strange menus, I’d probably have to use it, but I’m a basic meat-and-potatoes guy.

    In my experience, any local cafe or diner that’s at least half-full is going to be fine.

  12. YouDidWhatNow? says:

    …are you trolling us?

    I don’t think hardly anybody could take this seriously.

  13. macemoneta says:

    I went to a restaurant chain, got sick. Looked up the reviews, and lots of the same reports. I never eat anywhere anymore without checking. I did look at the health certificate in the restaurant (posted with several previous certificates), and they all indicated no problem, so they are worthless.

  14. speaky2k says:

    The only time I look up reviews is when I am debating about going to several places. For instance, recently I wanted to go to a hibachi restaurant in the city I live in. There are about 8 of them within 5 miles of my house, or so it showed when I typed in the term hibachi in google maps centered around my house. I knew of only 2 of the 8 and never heard anything good or bad about any of them, so I looked at the reviews to determine the ones that had the most reasonable reviews and chose the one that sounded the best to me. The reviews I looked at had both good & bad reviews, but the bad ones were typically of the type “I ordered specific item and the way this place prepared it for me was different from my favorite place” or the “I saw a bug!” which can happen if people hold doors open. I look for more general comments as to waitstaff and overall cleanliness and tastes.

  15. Kelther says:

    Too many restaurants are used to serving mediocre food with mediocre service, and too many potential patrons are used to paying high prices for it.

    I always check if I can, but I’m very optimistic. A new restaurant just opened? I’ll give them a try without waiting for initial reviews, no problem. The only thing keeping me from a particular restaurant would be a slew of bad, detailed reviews. Any restaurant that earns this (and is responsible for the problems) does not deserve patronage.

    And it is tricky, because businesses often change management, which leads to improvement or degradation in food and service. So it’s important to be at least a little adventurous, and write your own reviews if possible.

  16. Not Given says:

    There is exactly one restaurant review on yelp for my town so I wouldn’t bother looking any up online.

  17. elangomatt says:

    You forgot the option that applies to people who don’t live in large cities where every restaurant has reviews on yelp. There are over 100k people in my metropolitan area but most restaurants have maybe 2 or 3 reviews on yelp, assuming they have any at all. So yeah, I really don’t bother with reviews at all since the sample size is so small.

  18. aja175 says:

    fsck yelp. Live dangerously.

  19. aloria says:

    I’d probably check reviews if I lived in a place where I had to drive everywhere. However, I live in NYC, so my method of finding a place to dine or drink is as follows:

    1. Walk around until I spot an interesting looking place
    2. Peek inside to see how crowded it is; assess douchiness of said crowd
    3. If a menu is posted outside, check items and prices

    If satisfied with the above, I go in. Otherwise, I keep walking around.

  20. AspieMBA says:

    If it’s just me & hubby, we’ll take a chance if the place looks clean.

    If we’re taking my son, who is on a gluten free diet for autism, we stick to places we know or that we check out on glutenfreeregistry.com. While the kids and I were traveling, a college buddy of mine found the absolutely best GF pizza place ever using that.

  21. Princess Beech loves a warm cup of treason every morning says:

    It depends. If it’s for a special occasion, and the place is rather fancy, I check if it’s worth it. Sometimes if the place hasn’t got enough consistent reviews we check its menu offerings and check it out if we see stuff we like.

    We just had dinner in a fancy Japanese resto – despite all raves about how this establishment is “the best sushi in town” based on magazines, it was quite disappointing because we expected the sushi to be mind-blowing and it wasn’t. But at least we learned that there are other places better, at least for our tastes.

  22. AzCatz07 says:

    Some of my favorite restaurants are places I “discovered” by accident. I moved to my current city about seven years ago, and I’m still finding new places to eat that I love.

    The only time I’ve looked online for restaurants is when I’ve been on vacation and wanted a particular type of cuisine. Even then, I’ve gotten better recommendations from hotel staff, anyway.

  23. Applekid says:

    I live in the boonies and no one around me has heard of review sights for anything, so I’m pretty much going blind every single time, unless I want to travel 30 miles into the city.

  24. balderdashed says:

    I don’t expect good service, or anything much above mediocre food. If it even arrives at my table and isn’t lukewarm, I’m apt to be pleasantly surprised. Those are givens — not true in New York or Washington DC or San Francisco, but I live in Minneapolis/St.Paul. So I don’t need Yelp to tell me that somebody waited 45 minutes for their food to arrive, or another 15 minutes for their check — I’d have expected as much. About all I dare insist on is that the place be reasonably clean, and that there be no more than three or four flies buzzing around the restaurant, visible to me at any one time. To evaluate cleanliness, I use the Windex test: If the front windows are filthy and look like that haven’t been cleaned in weeks (or months, or years) I can guess what the kitchen is like, and I go somewhere else.

    • Princess Beech loves a warm cup of treason every morning says:

      I’m from the same area – I’ve never had issues with lukewarm food so far, but I do notice 50% of the time it takes 48 years for the server to get you your bill. No issues with bringing food in, but when you’re in a hurry to leave it takes forever to print out your bill.

  25. Snowblind says:

    When I travel on expense, I will pick a place that seems to have a good vibe and happy people eating there. I don’t drink, so the per diem usually covers most of dinner if I don’t go crazy.

    Then I ask the server to have the chef pick one appetizer or salad, and then a main course. Whatever the chef thinks is best today, except certain shellfish I don’t tolerate well.

    I have yet to have a bad meal that way. I did get a rather odd monkfish special once, but generally the food is excellent.

    Sometimes it is not even on the menu… I had a goat and white bean ragout that had been made for a staff meal. The head chef was so impressed with the dish he sent it out the Sous chef that made it to explain it. It was one of the best dishes I ever had, and my fellow diners shot evil eyes at me the whole night for not sharing…

    The wife has dietary restrictions, so this method does not always work when on vacation.

  26. Ilovegnomes says:

    I follow my nose to what smells good. I recently ate at one place via my method and had the best meal of my life. I went online to review it on Yelp and it had horrific reviews. I later found out that they had switched ownership/chefs. Had I gone off of Yelp alone to find a place to eat, I would have missed out on that meal.

  27. Will Print T-shirts For Food says:

    Now that idiots have access to the internet, Online reviews are no longer credible. I think you should have to take a class before you are allowed on the internet.

    • elangomatt says:

      You mean I shouldn’t be giving 1 star reviews because traffic on my way to the restaurant was horrible? I mean it was the best meal I’ve ever had in my live but I must have sat in traffic for like 45 minutes on the way there!


    • Cor Aquilonis says:

      Happily, they all seem to congregate in the YouTube comments. Before that it was the Yahoo! comments. Funny how they seem to migrate around.

  28. FashionablyDoomed says:

    I try to go to every new restaurant that opens up in my town, regardless of reviews. (except for the generic pizza/greek/american/canadian places, ’cause we have at least a dozen or more of those, we don’t need any more!) It also makes me sad that so few people here are willing to try the new restaurants. They only want the same thing, day in, day out. Their lives must be so boring…

  29. Outrun1986 says:

    The adoption rate of these apps in my town is super low, almost no one uses foursquare and yelp or whatever so its almost impossible for me to get reviews, let alone accurate, current ones. There might be 10 reviews that are 2-3 years old, which doesn’t do me much good, as restaurants can change dramatically in that time period. Also most of the places around here are Chili’s and Applebee’s and chain restaurants, I don’t think reviews would matter about these places since well, they are all about the same.

  30. corkdork says:

    I’ll often try to find places that haven’t been reviewed in Yelp yet, simply *because* they’ve not been reviewed in Yelp yet. I kind of like the “first to review” badge. And it helps that I live in an area where many people don’t use Yelp (they’re the wrong age group demographic).

  31. herblock says:

    Why we stayed, I don’t know, but a friend insisted it was great. The menu alone warned me. It was a Mexican restaurant. The plates were all numbered. The Uno, The Dos, The Tres, The Cuatro, The Cinco. Then suddenly it was The Six-O, The Seven-O, The Eight-O, The Nine-O and the Ten-O. It was soooooo bad.

  32. oldtaku says:

    We find lots of great little places just by wandering in. Some merely okay, and one or two eh, but we’re not afraid to leave if we go in and it looks dirty or the menu’s awful.

    Then I go home and look on Yelp and see the great little place with the fantastic food and the friendly service has a 2.5 star rating because the food is ‘too authentic’ in one review and ‘not authentic enough’ in another review and in another review the woman is upset they won’t make her a vegan version of the mole’ sauce.

    • oldtaku says:

      Though the one thing yelp’s good for if you’re pre-planning is looking for people saying ‘If you’re going here, have the [x], it’s a specialty’

    • Therulnig says:

      Yelp has the most backwards review filtering system that I’ve ever seen. I literally just visit the place’s page and hit the button at the bottom to see filtered reviews. They are usually much more telling.

      The public reviews will be like “Yea, food is GREAT..GO HERE..YEA!” or “Mandy didn’t refill my water fast, ZERO STARS.”, then you look at the filtered reviews and they are all proper length and well thought out opinions of the restaurant formed over many visits. I’d say I think Yelp takes kickbacks from business owners to filter reviews they want reviewed..but I can’t say “I think” because I know it to be true. There is a place in the next town over where the owner religiously monitors Yelp and a few other websites to balance the reviews out and he forgot to get one of his reply-comments to a review deleted that was very telling.

  33. bbf says:

    No, I don’t trust Yelp reviews. I’ve gone to too many restaurants with great reviews that turned out be turds because the people reviewing them were either:
    a) Astroturfers
    b) Didn’t have the same standards I did
    c) Didn’t know what the eff they were talking about.
    I go by recommendations from friends, family and coworkers. And if I can’t get a recommendation, I look at how many people of ethnicity xxx are eating at that type of ethnic restaurant to gauge its goodness.

    • voiceofreason says:

      B and C are quite elitist and paint you as an ass. Clearly there should be a D stating “have different tastes than I. Surely my opinion is not the only one that counts”.

    • Caddyshack says:

      I could care less about Yelp or anyone’s subjective opinion. It means nothing. I can make my own decision.

  34. VHSer says:

    Yelp ?

  35. Lexia says:

    Really I work at a hotel and many bad things about the hotel and we still get costumers, really it seems very few if any look online, I do not most times. No reason to only people that complain post online very few people that had a good time do. So that one persons bad time is going to ruin my bad time? no, also sometimes is it really that bad? we will see for ourselves, reviews online do not hurt anyone really, unless you a net based company, granted you loose some costumers, but loosing 10 is not many costumers when you have thousands

  36. giax says:

    Yelp or Urbanspoon reviews are not necessarily any better than authors’ reviews of other authors’ work in Goodreads and Amazon.

    For any successful Asian restaurant or eating establishment of any kind, I see numerous “I’m a real Asian [of the place that the restaurant’s national adjective refers to, like Chinese, Japanese, Korean, Vietnamese etc], and this is not at all like the food we have back home in [home country].” It’s pretty sad when it’s tried to be used for such large and immensely varied areas such as China. Hong Kong food is completely different from Sichuan food, and those are immensely different from the food in other parts of China. Guess what? Any great Chinese restaurant I’ve been to has a bunch of honkies complaining about how ‘greasy’ the food is. Umm – hit your white version of “Chinese” buffet eateries if you don’t like Sichuan food.
    Or if writing those reviews just because you own a copeting restaurant – carry on, those reviews tend to be very entertaining to read.

    I have been tempted for years to use the same “I am from [somewhere], this is not at all authentic food of [that place]” line. I can’t wait to do that the next time I eat in some food place that has food of somewhat European style – “I’m from Europe, and this is not at all authentic European food! My mum doesn’t cook like this…”.
    It would sound pathetic (as pathetic as the Asian version used for every Yelp or Urbanspoon review I’ve ever seen), yet it’d still be technically true. Even if I went to eat in any restaurant where my mum lives, still I wouldn’t actually get any food that would be authentic and traditional.

  37. Smiling says:

    Not anymore. It is so easy to look place up, I would rather spend my hard earned money at a place that isn’t crap.

  38. Kisses4Katie says:

    I avoid places like BestBuy, Sears, and Gamestop, and do not use paypal or facebook or similar evils, but I do not read reviews for restaurants. I just get hungry and we stop, unless it’s some place we frequent (being Orlando, it’s usually Disney restaurants! yum!) but it usually takes a long dialogue of what we want, and then driving and it being what we pass. I’ve never read a review for a restaurant and the only way I will not return is if I really just don’t like the taste. Reviews are fun, but not necessary.

  39. Sleestak says:

    I usually don’t but I did when searching for Korean restaurants in San Diego. From a massive amount of comments of one place I will never go there. Everyone says the food is great but service is hostile and the wait for a table is almost always hours long

    • Caddyshack says:

      The problem with customer reviews is that they are based on time-passed. Things change in the restaurant business and very fast. Server’s come and go quickly, management changes, etc. I could care less about a review that is more than a month old. What one server did to a reviewer is meaningless and maybe management fired her/him. Another replaces him/her and life is better. This business model is in constant motion.

  40. CrackedLCD says:

    I don’t have a problem going to a new place, especially if it means being first to review it on Urbanspoon. Someone’s gotta get the ball rolling. But I do check if it’s an established place, simply because I enjoy eating out but am not made of money. I want to minimize the risk that I’m going to drop $60-100 for a meal for three and come out miserable.

    That said, I live in a tourist zone which means some of the reviews are completely useless. Many places get great reviews simply because the bartender or wait staff flirt with them and/or make strong drinks. “Oh, it was amazing!” Horse shit. First off, “amazing” is a completely over used word these days and second, everything tastes like gold plated Skittles when you’re hammered. So I generally avoid the party places simply because I know the food is crap and the people don’t care.

    What makes me lose the most faith in humanity is, no matter how great the reviews are for that little out of the way juke joint that has the best food, people still flock to whatever’s “tradition” or most convenient to their hotels. Blech.

    • RynanEmery says:

      “everything tastes like gold plated Skittles when you’re hammered”

      haha never hear that one before-I’m going to have to work that into a conversation sometime.

    • Halloween Jack says:

      I wonder if I could get free drinks or desserts just from opening up the Yelp app and “casually” laying it on the table with the review screen open. Worth a shot!

  41. DrPizza says:

    Who needs an online review. More importantly, who trusts positive online reviews (and negative online reviews possibly put out by competitors.) It’s pretty simple: if the place is empty, avoid. If the place is packed with old people, the food is good for a good price.

    Wait. Damn. My analysis doesn’t work, because then Cracker Barrel would be considered “good” food.

  42. HogwartsProfessor says:

    I did this twice in L.A. this weekend; but the first place was recommended by the hotel desk lady. It was loud but had tremendously good burgers.

    Oh, and it was across from a place called Big Wangs. Hee hee hee hee.

  43. Halloween Jack says:

    First of all, hello from flyover country where people aren’t necessarily obsessed with Yelp. Plenty of good restaurants that have no reviews or maybe one or two one-stars from special snowflakes who are pissed because the ‘rents made them come to college all the way out here where there isn’t even a Trader Joe’s FFS.

    Second, we all know that people game these reviews, right? They’re either getting family and friends to astroturf them or they’re smearing their competitors. And that’s not even getting into so-called “star commenters” who are too self-enamored of their own shtick to care whether they are even giving out useful information. And, of course, foodies, who should all be locked into a bare concrete barn and forced to eat each other for sustenance.

    Not a big fan of Yelp, in case you’ve guessed.

  44. cantiloon says:

    I’ve found Zagat scores to more accurately reflect my experiences at places, but alas, only a small number of restaurants are in it. Still it’s one of the few pay apps that’s worth the price.