When time, budget and patience are limited, reviews may speed you through the task of booking a restaurant, finding a gift, putting an outfit together, and even planning a trip. Reviews vary from the hotel described with bubbling exuberance by someone who may never have slept under a roof before - that tiny Paris hotel on the street with the cute name is not "a glimpse of a long-gone palatial lifestyle" even if you "glimpse" out the small and dirty window rather than at the flat and stained mattress and the gritty carpet. Adding insult to injury, although just about all French hotels quote you a price that includes tax and service, this one didn't, and didn't advise the clientele until checkout. So your room cost is almost 25% more than the quoted price. Well, I just looked on Google and it looks like they painted since I was lured into staying there, so no pics and you can make up your own minds. Which I know you will.
User comments on travel booking sites can be helpful, of course - a scenic village where all the stores and restaurants are closed on the one day I have to get there - the trip was saved by thoughtful reviewers who noted the idiosyncratic schedule. And thanks to the guy who pointed out that the schedule of a famous boatride "did not even rise to the level of a statement of intentions." On the other hand, I stop reading reviews when people describe how they loved the picturesque motel on the Riviera because of the ease of doing laundry. I go to Siena to look at art and breathe in atmosphere. But that's just me.
Professional food critics have their own points of view and strong preferences. If you're planning a special night out or if friends insist that you accompany them to an evening at some new place that everyone's talking about, by all means research broadly. Some writers are more interested in adding an episode to their memoirs than in actually describing what was on the plate. My theory has been that Gourmet Magazine shut down because people lost interest in reading overheated descriptions of what part of the editor's mouth was tingling and how her evening ended. More meals have been spoiled by poor service, loud noise and long waits than by desperate cooks. And update your research - cooks move on, owners take in new partners, the economy impacts the menu...
A close friend worked at a Michelin-starred restaurant and - we're never too old for disillusionment - learned that a cadre of computers with different web addresses and wildly varying user names was responsible for eight-tenths of the first year's rave reviews on Yelp and similar sites. Apparently stuffing the ballot box is no longer limited to party politics. Another technique is to "bury" a poor or tepid review by posting a few dozen raves, since most people rarely read past the first dozen comments,
Sometimes, a look at where the reviewer hails from tells you a lot. Himself and I grew up eating shellfish (me because it used to be part of what was necessary on fast days and the custom lingered in the family, him because it was forbidden and dangerous and therefore enticing). But if you don't know what a mussel or an oyster is supposed to taste like, how are you to know that the one you are trying valiantly to get down is not a good example? Or that shrimp and lobster are not supposed to be rubbery? These items are not native to many parts of North America, and freezing, storage and travelling are not their friends. My mom, exquisite arbiter of table manners and owner of every kind of set of fish and shellfish fork demented silversmiths could imagine, delicately explained: Dear, it's not bad manners to spit out a bad clam. Just do it fast. How do you tell if there's something wrong with a clam or mussel? Believe me, you'll know. Thus, Himself and I don't eat shellfish or ocean fish more than an hour's ride from the relevant body of water.
Shoes that I tried on, inspired by a reviewer's assurances of quality and comfort, made me wonder what the poor dear had been wearing before she tried these synthetic clod-hoppers. From experience I know that if my reliable bloggy friends love something, I've got a good chance of loving it too - if it fits me and my budget. Wendy's style is so distinctly personal that I love reading her reactions even if I know before I start that the thing won't work for me. By the way, does anyone know why xoxo's blog disappeared? Is she OK? v.worried.
On many consumer sites, a criticism must be carefully masked to achieve publication. I'm thinking of the lady who raved about the excellence of the double wall oven model that I bought. Her one minor note was that it could be a little slow to preheat. Used to a 10-minute preheat time on every previous oven I'd owned or lived with, I gave this scant thought. How long could a powerful oven take to reach 350' or 400' ? Try 40 minutes, and Sears customer service assured me this was normal. Maybe so, but I just don't live like that. I have to remember to turn the thing on when I walk in the door in case I decide to cook something that needs to finish in the oven, and this is not only aggravating but wasteful.
Almost forgot - loved, loved, loved the many Amazon readers who, during a certain political campaign, reviewed binders as being "women-deficient."
The ultimate review, however, is the obituary. Did you know that readers can comment on internet death notices? This took me by surprise. Generally the comments are sympathetic and nice, she was my best teacher, he was a kind and helpful neighbor, I didn't know him well but he found my son's lost puppy, she helped me through a bad time.... The father of a friend passed. He had been a hard-driving and plainspoken businessman. He could be charming and kind, but apparently was not always so in the workplace. The sympathy site showed that many comments had been deleted - but a few snuck through. I reported to him for six years and one of the best experiences I had was when after four years he called me by name instead of saying "uh, you." OR -- another --"I had many memorable days when I worked for him and the best was the day I left."
Happy Jazzfest, all, more when I get back!
Location:New Orleans LA