Despite what chefs and restaurateurs might think, the rest of us appreciate the success of new media in the restaurant world. It’s become a cultural phenomenon that’s empowered the average restaurant-goer, allowing the insatiably curious to conduct “research” beyond the rudimentary business website and engage in the more lively ramblings of diner reviews on blogs, community message boards, and online publications. Knowledge is power! Right?
On the other hand, could all of this habitual Googling for reviews have adverse affects, causing a buildup of irrational expectations that just taints our own restaurant experiences? And if so, how do our expectations affect our overall dining experience?
There’s little denying the media’s stake in the food industry, at the very least, for the purpose of publicizing a restaurant. “The media tells me that the restaurant is there and then what kind of place it is,” says Irene Sax
, a New York based restaurant writer and reviewer. And that is true, but we also know it’s capable of much more; even Sax admits she’s susceptible to the media’s influence when she tells me about her latest restaurant visit to Sfoglia:
“It’s a tiny place near the 92nd Street that has gotten such great reviews that you simply can't get in for dinner…Of course, if the food is bad we'll be disappointed, but we go with great anticipation,” she says.
Even professional reviewers such as Sax fall victim to the media buzz, which means that the rest of us are no stronger, despite any ardent beliefs that we’re fair critics of life, unbiased thinkers who choose rationale over emotions, supporters of equal opportunity with centrist political views, and so on. This is an era where sophisticated stimuli works in ways that influence our perceptions and experiences at work, at home, with friends, even the meal we eat. Can we blame anyone (or thing) for our underwhelming dining experiences? Yelp? Foodie blogs?
“There’s an awful lot of snark out there in the blogging world,” Sax asserts. “I get the sense that some of the writers have unrealistic expectations of what a dining experience should be. And writers on some sites—notably Chowhound—fall in love with a place and deify it, setting a standard that can't possibly be that good,” Sax argues. Finishing on a positive note, however, she adds, “On the other hand, all this chatter does help to keep up the excitement of the experience." Sounds like the affects of a media overdose.
We overlook the fact that eating is also an emotional experience that comes attached with real-life constraints like money and time leading diners to makes comments such as “I really wanted to like this place,” or “For that amount of money, it just wasn’t worth it.” In the end, it’s just a meal. And it’s also our choice to read what’s out there on the web. Perhaps, then, there’s nobody else to blame for our sub-par experiences except for us.