Reporter confirms low-rated restaurant is bad


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Awww, that interview makes me feel bad for the owner…

…but then, it’s like, why weren’t you trying for the last 5 years, brah?


I think the reporter pretty much nails it with this line:[quote]Pasta Italiana feels as if it were still trading on its location, a mere half-mile from the National Zoological Park, trusting tourists will accept this halfhearted fare as a quick solution to quite hungry, sunburned kids.[/quote]

If a restaurant is in such a location that it has a never-ending supply of people who know nothing about it, negative reviews can’t kill it.

Short of serving food that actually harms the diners, it will probably stay in business until/unless someone very nearby opens another restaurant that has substantially higher “curb appeal.”


The invisible hand!

Improving the restaurant would take time and effort (and probably a change in ownership/management). If it’s making enough money to stay open as is, why would it change?

Can a restaurant make enough money to stay open out of ironic visits from people trying to see if it’s really as bad as it appears?


There is one particular restaurant in a high traffic location that is on the route to nearly everywhere I want to go.

It took me more than a few tries, over the course of many years, to conclude they were irredeemably awful. I can now resist the temptation to see if the management has changed or , but ittook an embarrassingly large number of trials for me to learn that lesson.


So a couple things:

  1. I don’t trust Yelp at all. I’ve spoken to small business owners whose restaurants are pretty great, but who get poor reviews. Most of the poor reviews related to either poor handling of a Groupon, or the Grouponer’s having unreasonably high expectations. It seems to be the same story repeated: Post-groupon, they had mixed reviews but nothing serious. It was only after they got the sales call from Yelp promising to make bad reviews disappear for $300 a month that many, many more poor reviews “algorithmically” showed up. The $300/mo. number was directly quoted by several unrelated business owners I chatted with, and of course they declined the offer.

  2. I am sure the restaurant is not great, but of everywhere I’ve traveled, D.C. has a gigantic heaping mountain of awesome places to eat. The place might actually warrant 2-2.5 stars instead of one, but who knows for sure. I am fairly certain that expectations are higher there than elsewhere.


They really don’t seem to care - poor quality ingredients, for example. Also they sound just wee bit dishonest as well.

I like to imagine the owner will take all of this to heart and re-evaluate what he’s doing.

Even though it’s probably got really high prices!

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One of the comments on the article says that food inside the zoo is even worse for the money. Location!

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If the location is good enough - and Woodley Park is great - it will make money by the truckload, even if the owner retires and goes to Arizona to enjoy his cashflow. Even if today’s tourists complain, tomorrow’s group won’t hear them. And even though Yelp is the Awesome Internet, there are actually some benighted travellers who do not consult it. Lots and lots of them - and they’re hungry.

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the restauranteur should give up this job and take up PR crisis management full time. This kind of thing usually ends with the owner/manager having a massive emotional implosion, threatening to sue, and talking shit about everyone involved.

As some one in the restaraunt business I feel I can comment on #1

Yelp is weird. For the most part its only the most motivated diners who are going to bother to leave a review. To a certain extent that can be people associated with the restaraunt. Friends of staff and owners, regulars, and some unscrupulous places require the staff to to surupticiously review the resto to inflate their rating. But for the most part the most motivated equates to people who have either had a legit bad experience, or who are problem customers for one reason or other. The overly entitled or those with unrealistic expectations, or who were looking for something for nothing (like those groupon users you mention, or even worse promo buyers). Some times there can even be an influx of bad reviews organised by a competitor. In larger, more urban areas with big populations of younger, tech savvy people or a good base of active yelpers who just like the platform this isn’t much of a problem. There’s a critical mass of people willing to more casually and honestly review, or people who take what they’re posting seriously, and over all they tend to review more often at more places. It tends to absorb, and out weigh the wonky reviews, making the overall rating more accurate.

But outside of those areas its a problem. There just aren’t enough people rating most restaraunts in most places to mitigate these effects. Its really rare where I’m at to find a place with more than double digit reviews, and most have below 10 reviews. When things go beyond that its usually reviews from tourists who are unfamiliar with the area, the restaraunt, or with restaruants and food in general. They often have unrealistic expectations, try to impress how much money they have (when they really aren’t particularly wealthy), or don’t understand what they’re ordering. I’ve had poor Yelp reviews driven by people who were angered that a lobster roll they were served was “just” lobster, mayonaise, and celary on a hot dog bun. Or by the fact that their was bacon in their clam chowder. Thats exactly what a lobster roll always is, and chowder by definition contains cured pork. You’ll often be reviewed by what you are not. Negative reviews driven by the lack of seafood options at a non-seafood restraunt. Or by the lack of Italian options at a Greek restaraunt, or by the lack of a special vegan menu at a steak house etc. Or because one item, or type of food, you’ve never served was unavailable. “I was really in the mood for tuna tartare, but they didn’t have it! And they were so rude when I requested they make it!” These people want to appear discerning, wealthy, educated, and above all feel they are deserving of an unrealistically high level of service, customisation of food, and special treatment. Posting reviews is a big way that they enact this, it helps show how important/descerning etc they are. And posting a negative review by default does so better than posting an honest one. Their expectations are also skewed rather heavily by poorly considered travel and food media’s lauding of my area, and particular restaraunts as being some sort of bougie food destination. Its also incredibly trivial for unscrupulous owners to artificially inflate their rating. Or even enthusiastic friends and family to un-intentially do so.

And a lot of restraunts are really dismissive of bad Yelp reviews though. For example there’s a Pizza Hut near here that was at one point popping up on listicles as supposedly being the worst reviewed Pizza Hut in the country. I worked an independant seafood place nearby. We had a worse Yelp rating than Pizza Hut. And not just any Pizza Hut, but the worst Pizza Hut. We couldn’t even out do terrible fast food. But the staff and owners were incredibly dismissive of this. The reviewers were entitled assholes, or worse tourists (the locals get pretty entitled/pissy about this). And Yelp was just a scam. Its the internet they said, anyone could write whatever they want. PFFT. There outa be a law!. The reviews were unimportant and nothing needed to change. Meanwhile their business was dying. The food was pretty shitty. Low quality ingredients, not well cooked, 15 years off trend, boring as hell. And the staff knew nothing about food, wine, beer, and had clearly never been trained in anything approaching a professional service standard. The dining room looked like something out of the 80’s, nothing was particularly clean or up to heath code, and they were pipping weird doo-wop and kids music through the stereo at all times. And despite being a seafood restraunt in a FISHING TOWN there wasn’t a scrap of local fish on the menu. The bad reviews were about exactly these problems.

That said its pretty easy to spot bad Yelp reviews. If they’re overly short, or lacking detail. Or conversely overly long and far too detailed. Particularly if there are a lot of personal attacks or emotional appeals. Or if the rating is the absolute lowest or absolute highest rating, or well at odds with the average (1 star on a 4 star average resto). You can probably ignore them. How consistent are the complaints? If they represent isolated negative experiences they’ll be spread out over time, and cover a lot of different problems. If there is actually a problem you’ll see the same few complaints pop up pretty regularly. And look at the total number of reviews. The lower the number the less accurate you can assume the total rating is.


Depending on where you’re travelling Yelp can be pretty useless. Not a lot of users (though that’s starting to change) outside your major cities. Where I’m at its a weird mix of Yelp, Travel Advisor, and a few other sites including one from the regional paper. Most of them can be pretty sketchy, that whole sign up for our promo-system and we’ll remove bad reviews thing. But you’ll usually find less than 100 if not far fewer reviews on each given site. So most people don’t check, even if you do in other places you won’t find it particularly usefull here.

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Case in point: the absolute worst Chinese takeout joint in my town is sitting at 4 stars across all review sites. All sites have fewer than 10 reviews.

(And seriously, the food is mediocre to terrible, except for the appetizers, which are excellent. Probably because they are frozen and steamed or fried on demand)

I feel like American Chinese and Chinese take out are a pretty big blind spot for Yelp. People really seem to like shitty Chinese food. Some of the wost places near me have exactly the same rating on roughly the same number of reviews as the one decent place. Then there’s a really old school sit down place where the food is genuinely really good in terms of throw backy American Chinese. And the service is pretty good to boot. Its got plenty of reviews, almost all of them negative. But they have better food than any American Chinese place (take out or otherwise) for like 60 miles in any direction. It makes no sense to me.

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Strongly agree. The best Chinese food in my town, while having more reviews, has a lower overall score than the 3-4 worst Chinese places, at a 3.5 rating. Of course, the worst reviews dragging it down are not even related to Groupon, it’s the fact that the place is below street level (and therefore “musty”, even though the place smells great and is well decorated).

The worst place in town with the terrible food, could fairly be called “dingy” and “run down”, and yet sits at a 4 star rating.

In short people are idiots.

Did you read the review?

A restaurant that can’t serve hot food hot (let alone cooked properly) deserves 1 star.

Go to anywhere similar where there are a lot of tourists etc and you’ll make money. I used to work in a country pub that served food that in tourist season got silly amount of customers because of it’s location and unlike basically everywhere else in walking distance it had a car park as well. It got by for 30 years under two incompetent brothers who inherited it from their father (who by all accounts was a very good publican and would have been ashamed).

If they’d had the skill and put in the effort they would have made silly money in that location. As it was they had neither, it hadn’t been properly redecorated since the 70s. It had an upstairs seating area (which would have been in constant use) that doubled up as a function room they stopped using because the ceiling became unstable and they never bothered to fix it. The only things they did or bought was stuff they couldn’t avoid. They inherited other businesses in the same stretch of land that weren’t restaurants but effectively were the same and propped up by tourism and location they’d inherited.

The irony being they no longer own the pub I used to work in because the one proactive thing they did do was use some land of theirs to build houses for rental or bed and breakfasts for what they saw as easy money. They actually got it done, hired local builders etc who could do the work etc (as it was the local dive bar half the tradesmen in the town used to drink in over winter when it wasn’t busy) etc yet they paid them cash in hand so didn’t pay the tax man the national insurance contributions and income tax they should have been paid for and were slapped with a £600k bill they had to pay and fast.

Now someone better owns the pub and it’s been refurbished and run properly etc. Still not great but a massive improvement.

I don’t think he was arguing with the base facts of of the original story. We’re just discussing the quirks that are particular to Yelp in less populated areas. And the fact that Chinese food in particular seems to be a tough spot for Yelp accuracy wise.

Certainly it to a certain extent.

Also, 2 stars is Bad in my book. You can serve luke warm food, and still get 2 stars in my book. The food appears to have been cooked at some point (and yes, I read the full review). 1 star (the minimum in most rating systems) I reserve for borderline dangerous food, violent staff, pets roaming the kitchen, exploitative pricing, and other horrorshows. In other words, 1 star or below (assuming one could award less) is worst-case scenarios. This place sounded just bad, not worst-case. Just my own rating system at work.

The review was full of hyperbole, so I was speculating whether it could possibly have been that bad, or if it just seems far worse than it is because of what passes for standard fare out that way. I’m unfamiliar with the writer’s other works, but I know for certain that humans are fickle animals. If one thing rubbed them the wrong way, it lowers their perceptions of everything else. In no small way, that’s why a lot of reviewers give 1 or 5 and rarely in between. The review was not nuanced and technical, so there is room for speculation.

This isn’t apologism at work; I acknowledged up front that I was fairly certain that the place was, in fact, not a great place to eat.