Is it really good advice?

A few weeks ago I wrote about the irresponsible way that social media services such as Twitter and Facebook are used by many unthinking, and I dared to suggest cowardly, individuals. People who are happy to broadcast a disparaging comment about a restaurant, hotel or similar without first having the courage or decency to mention the problem to the business’s owners or staff first and giving them the chance to put things right; things that might well have been a genuine mistake. As intimated at the time: let he without sin cast the first stone. Everybody makes mistakes.

This led me on to think of other types of internet media that people use in similar circumstances and that included review sites such as TripAdvisor where members of the public give their opinions of hotels they’ve stayed at or restaurants they’ve used. And the more I study it the more it disturbs me.

Last year I went with a mate of mine for a really, really cheap seven day skiing holiday in Italy. It was only after we’d returned that I bothered to look up on TripAdvisor the rating of the place at which we stayed. It was slated. People had written reviews, some using capital letters, imploring people not to stay there, that it was the worst place in the world, almost implying that the people who’d taken the money for such a place were tantamount to criminals.

And the hotel’s crimes? According to TripAdvisor, it came down to two: the bedroom walls were thin and breakfast was nothing to write home about. And you know what? Those observations were absolutely spot on but the facts had not bothered us while we were there because it was cheap. Really cheap. And we got what we paid for. We paid for a two star establishment and that’s what we got; a place where it seems that most of the complainers were expecting five star conditions at two star prices. Thin bedroom walls were soon cured with ear plugs and breakfast was quickly supplemented by a mid-morning hot chocolate and brandy at some little restaurant up the slopes. Heaven.

So again, it seems that businesses are at the mercy of unprofessional reviewers; people who either don’t think before writing their, often appallingly-spelt, review or have little understanding of the workings of the real world out there.

A lot of it’s down to your level of expectation. If you pop into a fish and chip shop, you’ll generally get what you were expecting: a cheery greeting, a choice of a couple of fish or a sausage deep-fried in batter accompanied by some greasy chips, all for three or four quid. You’re kept waiting for no more than a few minutes and you can spend that time reading the tradesmen’s’ business cards pinned to the wall. Perfect.

However, there’s nothing to stop you going on a review site, slagging off the total lack of waiter service, complete absence of chairs, tables or table cloths and the fact that nobody offered to take your coat for you upon arrival and giving it one star out of five “because there wasn’t the option to give it zero stars” as I’ve seen written on more than one occasion.

And that’s what people do. They go to a restaurant that specialises in fish and complain when they can’t get a steak. We’ve had people complain that they can’t get pasta in our British restaurant. Don’t consumers have a responsibility to do a little research before choosing a venue? You could argue that that’s what these review sites allow but the research is only as good as the information on which it’s based.

By all means, review your local McDonald’s but don’t slag it off for its lack of a sophisticated atmosphere or comprehensive wine list.

Do I sound bitter? I don’t feel it. We do well as a restaurant and the feedback we get from our customers is fabulous. But there are numerous fish and chip cafes and frozen-food restaurants rated on review sites that rate much more highly than we do. But it’s about expectation: if you know what to expect, you’re less likely to be surprised by what you get.

As I frequently say, despite people trying to get it, there’s no such thing as a free lunch. But I did get an incredibly cheap skiing holiday. And I loved every minute of it. Five stars.

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