Guest blogpost by Irene S. Levine
Where to look for restaurant reviews? Everyone has their personal favorite online review sites. Some of mine include: Open Table, Zagat, Yelp, Chowhound and Trip Advisor (Karen’s note: a personal fave in Miami is Urbanspoon with reviews by local media including yours truly). Whichever one or ones you choose, here are my tips for navigating and making use of these and other restaurant search sites to help you find a great meal:
1) Compare the ease of searching for information on the different sites (as well as their mobile apps). Some sites are intuitive and user-friendly; others are more frustrating, slower, and time-consuming.
2) Check out how comprehensive the site is for the information you are seeking. Some sites work better for people in different age groups or for restaurants in different geographical locations.
3) Make sure the reviews you are reading are timely and up-to-date. In fact, if you haven’t made a reservation beforehand, it’s always best to call ahead and make sure the restaurant is still in business before you travel.
4) Many of the sites allow you to make reservations and print out maps and directions on how to get there. If you can’t make a reservation directly on the review site, you can often do so through the URL for the restaurant.
5) Check out the “meaty” discussion boards on whatever sites you use, in addition to the reviews.
6) There is often controversy about whether rankings are totally unbiased or have been written by owners and friends. The best way to protect yourself: Don’t depend on any one review or site exclusively.
7) Don’t forget to look at the pictures; many of the sites include pictures of the establishment and/or the dishes.
8) Don’t give too much credence to outlier reviews. Every kitchen and every diner has a bad day.
9) Supplement online information with restaurant reviews from newspapers, food and travel magazines, and recommendations from friends.
10) Pay it forward: Contribute your own reviews to one or more of the sites so others can benefit from your experience.
Irene S. Levine is the producer of More Time To Travel, a website providing information and inspiration for travelers over-50. Many of her blog posts and articles published in the Chicago Tribune focus on culinary travel. Check out Quest for the Best for additional tips on finding the best meals while traveling.