A word or two about restaurant reviews

We have visited hundreds of restaurants over the years. And although we have only started this blog fairly recently (beginning of 2014) there are already quite a lot of posts with restaurant reviews on our blog.
Here are some thoughts about restaurant reviews, and our take on the matter.

#1. A restaurant review is always a subjective account

A restaurant review is always a personal account. So many different subjective preferences shape the experience. As we explain in #2 we try to look at the global picture when writing a restaurant review, but even that is of course shaped by our own personal preferences and taste.

#2. More than food: everything counts

The food is of course the main focal point. A restaurant experience is however also shaped by other factors: comfort, hygiene, service, attitude, location, accessibility, choice of vegan options, presence of non-vegan items (like leather chairs in vegetetarian restaurants), …  And a price tag that is in check with the quality. So sometimes the vegan food may have been great, but the restaurant scores less on other points (or the other way around). It might have been one of the best lasagnes we have ever eaten, but if the chairs were miserably uncomfortable, the toilets were nauseously dirty, or staff was unfriendly, the place will not receive top points from us.

Comfort
Comfort

#3. Haute cuisine and junk food

Opinions on food vary according to personal preferences, tastes, style, spices, thinks you do or do not like. Some people are ravient about a pizza with vegan cheese, others dismiss it as processed junk food, some people like a macrobiotic grain based dish, others call it rabbit food. We like a vegan burger, we like pasta, we like raw food, just as much as we enjoy fine gastronomical dining. In fact, there are no food styles that we do not like! However, we enjoy it even more if the burger is homemade by the chef (10 points for effort!) and not just store bough in the supermarket (and then being charged hilariously high prices for it). We like to be surprised, we like discovering new combinations and tastes, we appreciate originality and effort. We try to make a fair evaluation based on price versus quality and effort in our reviews.

#4. Is it really vegan?

Dining out always involves a risk, and greatly comes down to trust (not only for vegan matters, but also for hygiene matters and quality products). And unfortunately sometimes that trust is breached. Despite spelling out as clearly as possible what we do and don’t eat (preferably by e-mail in advance) it is possible that some chefs (un)willingly cheat. We try to minimise this risk, but it is always there. If you want zero risk, then do not go dining out. At this moment, we prefer to still go out dining (who knows, maybe that will change over time) as we think it is important to let restaurants know that there is demand for vegan options.
We wrote a seperate blogpost about trust when dining out here.

Hickory Chick Burger, VBites, Brighton
yes, we do like the occasional junk food (burger at V-Bites, Brighton UK).

#5. Dare to ask for something vegan

Even is there is nothing vegan on the menu. We have had some of our best experiences in restaurants which at first hand seem totally not vegan friendly, but where the chef was happy to make us a vegan menu.
Asking for a vegan menu may seem like a trivial or self-evident point to some, but we have seen so many online comments over the years of people ‘not wanting to be the difficult one‘ when dining out and compromise and order a non-vegan meal. But again, it is important that vegans keep asking for vegan options, so that the catering world realises there is demand for it and will provide vegan options. And also be consistent about it.  Otherwise we get situations where the waiter is adament about the fact that ‘vegans DO eat eggs and honey, because we had a vegan here last week who had no problem with it!’.
You do not have to compromise your beliefs, you are the customer, the restaurant should acknowledge that.

and we also like fine dining. appetizer at Tian, Vienna
and we also like fine dining. Appetizer at Tian, Vienna

#6. ‘At least they served something vegan!’

And just be happy that you got something to eat!!
We are happy that restaurants make an effort. We are happy if restaurants have a seperate category on the menu with vegan options. We applaud their intentions and efforts. We are however disappointed if it turns out to be an inspirationless bowl of salad or pasta with left over stir fried vegetables. We are not happy if the service is substandard or the comfort makes us feel miserable. And we will give an honest account of our experiences. When dining out, we are customers, they make a profit from us, so we expect quality food and service that is in line with the price.
Remember that restaurants exist to give you a enjoyable dining out experiece. Not the other way around.

 

In our reviews, we try to make a fair evaluation based on price versus quality and effort.

#7. ‘You should support businesses that offer vegan options, not criticise them’

Because they already have a hard time as it is! We do support them and wish them the best and try to visit as many as we can. But just because they are a vegan (friendly) does not mean we will lower the treshold for standard and applaud them uncritcially. Maybe the bar should even be raised higher, since non-vegans visiting these places will probably be even more skeptical or even unforgiving of any mishaps just because it is a vegan (friendly) place.
Also, If vegans univocally applaud these places and speak not about any minor points, it gives a very distorted view of the place. It unrealistically raises expectations. So one ends up going there with (non-vegan) friends expecting to have a sublime experience, and it turns out to be not quite what you had expected based on all those ravissant and wonderful (but uncritical) reviews. It backfires in the long run. It leads to disappointment.
We think it is very important to share your experiences of dining out, good and bad. We try to be honest and fair in our reviews, also of vegan (friendly) businesses. If the restaurant or catering bussiness is professional, it will thankfully take the critical comments into consideration and look into ways to raise the bar and enhance the overall quality, so mishaps like these can be avoided in the future.
More about this point in this blogpost:
A critical note about vegan (friendly) places? Don’t you dare!

#8. Every thorn in the desert looks like a rose

In some areas in Belgium, vegan options for dining our are still pretty scarce. So of course that only place that serves vegan burgers or vegan pasta in the whole wide area is seen as an oasis in the desert! Yes, finally, we are so happy there is a place with vegan options! Never mind that the service is crappy, the comfort is subpar and the food is shamelessly overpriced.
That is what we mean with ‘every thorn in the desert looks like a rose‘. Because there are so few options for vegans in the area, that one place that does have vegan options is automatically considered a paradise.  As vegan options increase in the catering landscape, the thorns will hopefull develop into bushes of roses. Meanwhile let’s support them, but also help them with pointing to the issues they can improve and raise their game.
Oh, and of course there are not only thorns in the deserts, there are some beautifully coloured and lovely scenting rose bushes too, that have given us marvelous dining out experiences 🙂

Is everything ok? You haven't photographed your food
Is everything ok? You haven’t photographed your food

#9. ‘You wrote a rather negative review, but I really really like that place’

Good for you! Feel free to add your experience in the comments so others can hear another view on this place!

#10. ‘You wrote a positive review, but we had a very bad experience there’

Too bad! Feel free to add your experience in the comments so others can read another experience of this place!

Dining out always involves a risk, and greatly comes down to trust (not only for vegan matters, but also for hygiene matters and quality products)

#11. ‘You cannot write a negative review based on one visit’

Yes, maybe the staff had an off day. If that was the case you will surely find plenty of other (positive) reviews about them elsewhere. But this blog is about our experiences, of our visit to that restaurant on that day, and unfortunately, on that particular visit, we thought there was room for improvement. And so that is what you will read in our review, and we hope the staff will take it in and seize it as an occasion to raise the bar. We also mention in the review whether we’ve been there several times or just this one time. If people do not share their experiences honestly, and refrain from mentioning their not so good experiences, it gives a very distorted view of the place and unrealistically raises expectations (see the points mentionned under #7).
It is also remarkable that people never say ‘you cannot write a positive review based on that one positive experience‘. While that positive experience could just as well be a one-off fortunate instance (just as on other occasions a negative experience could be a unfortunate occasional mishap).
Furthermore, restaurants should of course strive to prevent these mishaps (even if they are just occasional accidents) and pursue professionalism on all occasions.

#12. ‘If it’s a full house, it must be a good place though?’

This can be a fair indicator, but there have been places where we have discovered this to be absolutely not true. Where the place was jam packed, but our experiences was not good. And also the other way around, where there were hardly any patrons, but we’ve had a very nice dinner!
The same goes for the overall direction of restaurant reviews of one place. If 9 out of 10 reviews are ravissant about a place, the scale seems to pend to the positive side. If on the contrary, most reviews mention a negative experience, I would be hesitant of going there. But even that is not waterproof, as many vegans seem to be wary of sharing negative experiences about a vegan (friendly) place (see #7. and #8.). And so you end up going to a place with very high expectations (because nobody dares to say a critical note), and it ends up to be not really what you expected.

nice toilets at Zukini, Ghent

#13. ‘Why are there photos of toilets in some of your restaurant reviews?’

Since the Fall of 2015, we also try to take a photo of the toilets when visiting a restaurant. It determines the overall impression of a place. Hygiene is important. The cleanliness of the toilets might be an indicator of the overall attention to hygiene elsewhere in restaurant.

#14. Be prepared. Tips for vegan dining out

If possible, we try to contact the restaurant beforehand, preferaby by e-mail, and give a clear description of what we do not eat, and what we do eat. When you arrive at the restaurant, check again, ask about some common pitfalls (like the bouillon in the soup, bread or oil used for frying). But even with all the precautions, it can still happen that your dish is not what you ordered or they made some mistakes. Mention it. Point it out, so staff is aware and they can improve. And some energy bars in your purse serve great as backup in case it totally backfires 😉

#15 on a 5 star scale

In February 2017, we decided to add stars to the restaurant reviews, according to a 5 point scale. I have taken a 5 star scale, and based the qualifications for those stars on those used on Happy Cow and Tripadvisor.
More info in this blogpost: Adding stars to my restaurant reviews.

UPDATE FALL 2017: stopped adding stars to reviews. I found it too difficult and most restaurants ended up getting 4 stars. So it didn’t have any added value.

onestar dislike it, horrible
twostars not so good, needs improvement
threestars moderate, fair, good
fourstars very good
fivestars excellent!

#16 Why do you also list restaurants that are not welcoming to vegans?

There are two lists with restaurants on my blog, one with restaurants in Bruges and one with restaurants outside Bruges. On both pages, I include restaurants that have answered positively (willing to make a vegan menu), but I also list those restaurants that have said they cannot or will not make a vegan menu, or have not replied at all (see at the bottom of those pages).
This is for pragmatic reasons (reminding myself which ones I have contacted), but also to warn other vegans about the non-vegan friendlyness of certain establishments. I also hope that
as the numbers of vegans are increasing, catering businesses that leave vegans at the door will experience that, figuratively and literally, it’s their loss.
I wrote more about this is in this post: vegans not welcome!
This post may be updated in the future with new comments or insights, or some points will be elaborated in seperate blogposts.

vegan tapas platter, £24,50
vegan tapas platter at Terre a Terre, Brighton. One of the beste appetizers we ever had

6 Comments Add yours

  1. ¡Thumbs up! And greetings from the south of Peru!

    1. trudi_bruges says:

      Wow, nice! Thanks for the support, greets from far away Belgium 🙂

  2. Great set of guidelines for reviewing, and for laying out your own philosophy.

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