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Rating a restaurant


KD1191
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Over in the Eleven Madison Park thread, there has been a lot of discussion that is slightly broader than the topic of EMP since the restaurant was elevated to 4 stars in the New York Times. The majority of the discussion is focused on issues unrelated to the meals that were judged to be 4-star caliber. I'm starting this thread in the hopes that we can discuss these more in a vacuum than with specific regard to EMP.

Should the rank of a restaurant be altered by the existance or enforcement of a dress code, or the minimum level of dress required to dine?

Should the behavior of other guests be reflected in the restaurant's ranking?

Should a restaurant's rating be effected by what other diner's might order, or the ability to have a meal of substantially greater or lesser quality depending on what particular dish or menu is ordered? (Assuming listed or at least universally available dishes/menus that no 'VIP' level access is required to obtain.)

Should a restaurant that strays from traditional FOH arrangements ever be awarded the highest possible rating? (Alinea's lack of linens has been mentioned in the other thread, but I'm also thinking of issues like communal seating or counter-service.)

Should the number of courses available, or the presence/absence of a degustation menu, affect the rating of a restaurant?

Those are the questions I can see weaving their way through the various comments of the EMP discussion, but I'm sure there are more. I'd be very interested to hear the thoughts of others.

True rye and true bourbon wake delight like any great wine...dignify man as possessing a palate that responds to them and ennoble his soul as shimmering with the response.

DeVoto, The Hour

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I think a restaurant should be judged by all things under their control. So rowdy guests should only affect a restaurant rating in the manner the FOH deals with them. I don't think there should be "required standards". So if no tablecloths is the best choice for what you are doing, then it should be considered the best choice and receive highest marks, same for the other items you mention.

As for menu choices, tough to say. Some places are great with very few choices on the menu, I wouldn't take off marks for this in and of itself.

IMHO of course.

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Restaurant ratings grow meaningless over time. They may continue to be valid or things may change either positively or negatively a week or month after the rating was decreed, making the rating totally irrelevant. Ratings are pretty much just a shortcut for readers who don't like to read and an exclamation point a reviewer adds to a review.

HollyEats' coveted Grease Stains are, of course, the tongue-in-cheek exception that proves this proposition.

Holly Moore

"I eat, therefore I am."

HollyEats.Com

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I would say you don't get four stars if the experience of visiting the restaurant is consistently aggravating or unpleasant. The reviewer shouldn't tie his hands, though, by deciding in advance how it is that he believes a good dining experience is created. You have to go along, experience the experience and then rate it. So, existence of dress code is not a rating issue. Consequences flowing from question of whether dress code exists may be a rating issue. It may well be appropriate to award four stars in a restaurant pushing the boundaries of conventional FOH arrangements. If this was not the case then you might as well send the guy who doesn't know much about dining, but sure does know what he likes along to write the review. What we want to know from the critic is - having gone along and tried it does it turn out that communal tables are, despite all the odds, simply the most exceptional and wonderful way to eat the great food that this restaurant is turning out? Seems unlikely, but you never know. I imagine that when a restaurant of this sort of standard takes a risk, it does it for a reason. Surely innovation isn't a necessarily a bad thing.

Catherine

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I am finding this post very interesting as I have to give guidelines to our members who review restaurants in the UK, Europe and Africa, for the Society’s Food & Wine magazine. I have two different sections - top restaurants with Michelin stars or equivalent and pub/gastropubs. I point out to reviewers that if the menu is too long the food will doubtlessly be ‘cling & ping’ - freezer to microwave. But above all I ask them be honest and to tell it as it is - warts and all.

I expect top expensive restaurants to maintain a certain standard - table linen, side plates etc. Things you won’t often find in pubs/ gastropubs. I think lack of side plates is one of the worst failings - I don’t like spreading my bread on a bare table that has been wiped fifty times with antibacterial wipes. Unfortunately I don’t think a dress code can be a rating factor but personally I do get fed up with scruffy men in quality restaurants and they are nearly always accompanied by smartly dressed partners.

Pam Brunning Editor Food & Wine, the Journal of the European & African Region of the International Wine & Food Society

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  • 4 weeks later...

Hi

This is a subject that has occuppied my thoughts for years as I frequently write reviews for 1001dinners.com Ultimately it is the overall experience that counts and that can be broken down into a number of elements eg Ambience, decor, service, cutlery crockery and glassware, food, wine, price, 'returnability' and perhaps others. These can be further dissected and given marks, hats, stars coffee beans or whatever.

Table cloths and dress codes, within reason, do not seem very important to me depending on the style of the restaurant and to some degree they should be rated in their class. Restaurants that portray themselves as top shelf need to maintain much higher standards throughout than cafe's bistro's and pizza houses!

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I think there's a little bit of a chicken-and-egg problem when one tries to settle questions like this. What comes first, the rating or the criteria? It seems to me that if you define your rating scale with particularity, most of these questions fall away. So, for example, if you say "Four stars means white tablecloths," then everybody is on notice that, in that particular system, you can't get four stars if you have no tablecloths or black tablecloths. Another rating system can have the rule, "We only care about food, not tablecloths," in which case, again, we know what we're dealing with. The problem arises when you have poorly defined, highly elastic rating systems the application of which is left up to individuals who may or may not have great judgment. In that situation, communication becomes sketchy. Readers have no reliable way of knowing what to expect from a four-star restaurant.

Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

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