Stef • June 17, 2019
When I started reviewing burgers I was quickly confronted with a moral dilemma: do I have the right to write a negative review? Should a random person like myself dare judge a professional restaurateur’s work? It took me a while, but I came to a conclusion that became my mantra: everyone is entitled to an opinion, and there’s nothing wrong in publishing it as long as it is respectful, contextualized and properly elaborated.
Contrarily to what happens on social media, where feedback on just about everything is mostly reduced to sterile arithmetic means of one-to-five ratings and a few telegraphic comments, reviews take their time. They take their time to elaborate on an experience, to analyse it from non-trivial angles, to put it in context by comparing it to other similar experiences. They take their time to put the author’s personal opinion in perspective. When you have tested dozens of different burgers in the same city, you can safely claim to have a better overview of that city’s burger scene than the average aficionado. This allows you to give a thought-out feedback that is more meaningful than the one-time angry dismissal or a ravishing approval voided of any context or justification whatsoever. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that the one-digit, hundred-characters feedback is totally irrelevant. I’m just saying that, in many cases, that alone is not enough.
Reviews (both positive and negative) represent valuable inspiration for those who are deciding where to have dinner next and trust the author’s experience to guide them. But that is not the point, or at least not the main goal. It doesn’t matter whether readers agree or disagree with the reviewer’s point of view, the true importance of a review lies in its role as conversation starter: the review exists to trigger something in readers, no matter whether it strikes a chord or hits a nerve. At the same time, reviews provide the thorough feedback that something as complex as a professionally prepared meal deserves. Reviewers are first of all customers, and as such, any restaurant should be interested in their opinion. In this sense, negative reviews are far more important than positive reviews.
In my personal experience, a negative review is mostly triggered by disappointment. When you decide to go out for dinner, you really want it to be worth the time and money. But most importantly, you don’t want to have your expectations betrayed. Yes, there are some objective criteria that make a burger unenjoyable - a stale bun, an overcooked patty, an intrusive sauce - but in the end it all boils down to whether it reflects your expectations, if it is honest enough to satisfy you, no matter whether it involves fancy South American meats, inventive toppings or simply genuinely fresh ingredients. In other words, you can accept an unimpressive burger from a bar that serves mostly drinks, but you cannot accept it from a specialized burger parlor; you can accept a simple ketchup-and-lettuce burger from a late-night food truck, but you cannot accept it from a restaurant. In the end, it’s all a matter of balance.
But the reviewer’s disappointment is just his own. Readers might not care if a burger is not on par with others served in the city, if it’s not as exciting as it gets. They might like it for reasons that the reviewer does not see. And that is ok. Being based on personal opinions, reviews are bound to be divisive. Especially when they deal with something as relatable as food, they are bound to clash with people’s different tastes and preferences. But again, that’s the whole point. As long as it keeps people talking - and thinking - a review is doing its job.