The Weekly Open Thread: User-Generated Restaurant Reviews

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Garage Bar chef Michael Paley and the wood-burning pizza oven
  • garageonmarket.com
  • Garage Bar chef Michael Paley and the wood-burning pizza oven
I spent last weekend in Louisville with my girlfriend and another couple, and we ate at a restaurant I've enjoyed on a couple of previous visits: Garage Bar. In many ways, it reminds me of City House. We enjoyed a couple of terrific pizzas from the wood-burning oven and a terrific ham sampler. This was our best Garage Bar meal yet.

While I was searching for the address on my iPad, I noticed a link to the restaurant's Google+ reviews, with a pretty mediocre score of 14 out of 30, based on 15 reviews. As I perused the reviews, I noticed four consecutive negative reviews, all posted about a year ago — and all anonymous.

One comment really caught my eye:

One interesting side note, I went with 4 other guys, all of us in our late-40s. Even though we made reservations, we were sat at a table for 4 in the back of the restaurant. Perhaps not surprisingly, there were 3 couples who looked to be in their 60s in the back, and a little later they seated 3 women in their 50s in the back room with us. Out front were the hip 'n happening 20 and 30 somethings. It was quite obvious that they didn't want us old folks to be seen in their trendy restaurant. Pretty funny.

Now I've eaten in both the front and back room. My last visit was with my girlfriend's parents, both in their 60s, and we ate in the front room. To my eyes, the commenter seems to be a tad presumptuous, not to mention insecure. And downright silly. Were all the negative comments from the same poster? (It's worth noting that on Yelp and Urbanspoon, the consensus was far more positive.)

And there are other legitimate questions. Are the establishment's friends and family writing positive reviews? Are competitors or jilted lovers writing negative ones? Some sites claim to address such concerns, but how effectively can that really be done?

I rarely consult user-generated reviews for local eating, as I have enough reliable sources and blogs here, not to mention you Bites readers, who have been quite helpful in turning me on to some great spots. (Oh, and there's a weekly newspaper I like ... wink wink). But when I travel, I have found user-generated reviews useful, and after figuring out how to separate the wheat from the chaff, fairly reliable. Well, with one exception — the highly user-reviewed Tupelo Honey in Asheville, where I had one of the worst restaurant meals I've experienced in years.

I'm just curious how much Bites readers rely on online user-generated reviews. Do you consult them? Take them with a grain of salt? Have you figured out a way to make sense of them that works for you? Do you ever contribute reviews? What's your favorite user-review site?

Anything else on your mind?

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