Restaurant Critic Rails Against “Stupid And Broken” Star-Rating System

We’ve said before that star ratings for restaurants are often arbitrary and may not be an accurate representation of the review’s content or of other diners’ standards. You might think that critics who get paid to give such ratings would defend the practice, but at least one of them has come out swinging against the stars, bells, and other dingbats he and his fellow reviewers are often compelled to use.

“Stars… are stupid, subjective short-hand added almost entirely as a tl;dr for people too lazy to read actual words,” writes Philadelphia Magazine’s Jason Sheehan in his impassioned rebuke of the star system. “I’ve known a lot of critics in the nearly 15 years that I’ve been reviewing restaurants and not one of them ever had a defense for them more nuanced than ‘we use them because we use them.'”

And yet Sheehan uses them at his current gig because (A) the magazine has employed star-ratings for ages, and (B) because “Readers are accustomed to seeing stars. Restaurateurs and chefs are accustomed to seeing stars.”

Diners are always on the hunt for new “4-star” reviews or to be warned off yucky “1-star” writeups, just like restaurant owners will try to cash in on a high star rating… and probably change their name after a really miserable grade.

Sheehan, who describes the star system as “stupid and broken,” wrote this piece after a reader questioned why a recent glowing review of a Philly restaurant had only been given three stars when everything written about the restaurant was positive.

This, he notes, points to a severe limitation of the star system, and it has to do with the general public’s expectations of what a top rating indicates.

Does a small restaurant “without a bar or wine program, with just a couple wood tables and an exposed kitchen, no servers, and a highly focused menu” merit the same four stars as a larger establishment with top-flight servers, complex menu, and a huge wine selection?

According to Sheehan, readers who are looking at just the star rating will expect something worth traveling miles, possibly hours, to visit; not just a nice place to eat really good food.

This again, is why it’s so important to read the full review and decide whether that 2-, 3-, or 4-star rating is in line with your expectations.

Maybe the smaller restaurant with the limited but lovely menu is exactly what you’re looking for. If so, writes Sheehan, go ahead and consider a 4-star eatery.

“Give it nine stars for that matter,” he concedes. “Because you, wise commenter, read the actual words in the review and decided that you liked the sound of” what you’d read.

[via Eater]