Online rating sites don’t take into account cultural differences.
You’re finally taking that Covid-delayed trip to Europe! Yay! You get off the plane, head to the hotel, drop off your bags and head out to see the sights.
But first, let’s get something to eat! You grab your phone and pull up the Yelp! app. Or the TripAdvisor app. Or Happy Cow. And you start searching for some five star local grub.
Oooh, this place looks good. Yummy food, close by, decent prices…but wait! It only has 3 stars. Must be bad, let’s go somewhere else.
Not so fast.
I’ve been traveling to Europe for decades and I now live in Portugal. And, I do the same thing. I’ll look at online reviews when I want to try a new place.
Even if the place is rated poorly I still like to read the reviews. Here’s why.
If multiple reviews complain about an unhygienic establishment, I will avoid it. If reviews say the place is dangerous or they were threatened, it’s also a no-go for me.
But, if the low ratings are strictly because of complaints about poor service, I will probably give the place a chance. That’s because I have seen far too many international travelers come to a country with the expectation that they’ll get the same kind of service they do in their home country.
I’m sorry to say this is especially true of Americans.
I see the same pattern over and over again. A tourist goes into a restaurant, is seated, and the waiter/waitress doesn’t immediately come over and take a drink order.
Or, the dishes don’t all come out at the same time.
And, most commonly, at the end of the meal, the check isn’t quickly dropped off at the table.
“The service was awful!” they cry. “We sat there for 45 minutes before we got the check!”
I say “Wait a minute.” What you’re experiencing is actually good service. Dining in other parts of the world, especially in Europe, is often a leisurely affair. The waitstaff wants you to get settled and maybe chat with your dining companions before ordering. Your entrees are coming out one at a time because that’s when they were finished cooking in the kitchen and the chef wants you to enjoy them when they’re hot. Not only that, but the cook may be back there working alone, There’s no way to time several dishes going out at the same time when you’re a one person show.
And, most importantly, that table you’re sitting at is yours for the evening. No one expects you eat and leave in an hour or even two. Locals will sit there for hours, enjoying the company of their family and friends.
Recently, I popped into a cafe in Lisbon to get “uma bica” (espresso). I’d never been in the place before and was pleasantly surprised that in the middle of a touristy area of the city was an amazing old time cafe with outstanding coffee and nice pastries.
The service was good and the staff took their jobs seriously, taking the time needed to make an excellent cup. I was so happy with my new discovery that I immediately added it to my Lisbon Foodie Travel Guide.
Then, I made the mistake of looking at the reviews. Frankly, I was shocked. This is the kind of place that tourists should be flocking to. But, some bad reviews complaining about the service likely kept folks away.
Was the service bad? No. Quite the opposite, in fact. But, I think that some folks have become so accustomed to the fake friendliness of places like Starbucks, that when they don’t get it, they think the barista is being rude. A shame.
The other reason that restaurants get dinged with poor reviews is bad food.
But, ask yourself this question. Is it really bad food or is it food the person didn’t like?
There’s is a difference.
I mean, if you don’t like sushi, it won’t matter how skillfully the dish is prepared, you’ll turn up your nose. If you go to Italy and you don’t like pasta, well, you’re probably not going to have a good time. But, does that make the food bad? No, it’s just something that isn’t to your taste.
Yet, time and time again I see online reviews giving one star (“I’d give zero stars if I could”) simply because the dish wasn’t to their taste.
Now, I’m never going to convince the vocal minority that publishes complaints on these crowd-sourced online review forums to be more reasonable with their posts. But, I can ask that you dig a little deeper when you use these sites and see if the complaints have merit.
About the Author
Brent Petersen is the Editor-in-Chief of Destination Eat Drink. He currently resides in Setubal, Portugal. Brent has written the novel “Truffle Hunt” (Eckhartz Press) and the short story collection “That Bird.” He’s also written dozens of foodie travel guides to cities around the world on Destination Eat Drink, including in-depth eating and drinking guides to Lisbon and Porto. Brent’s podcast, also called Destination Eat Drink, is available on all major podcasting platforms and is distributed by the Radio Misfits Podcast Network.