Writing a Restaurant Review in Ten Easy Steps!

Nov 30, 2003

The Bottom Line Restaurant reviews... looking through them, it would seem there's almost no way to write one that'll get higher than an H from me. It's actually pretty easy: here's the secret!

So, you've been to a few restaurants, probably. Maybe you'd like to write a bit about one. Maybe it's one of your favorite places, or perhaps a place you really hated. That's all peachy keen, good and dandy, but how should you go about it? Here are ten tips to make yours shine above the rest!

1: Talk about the food!

Now sure, I love hearing stories about good and bad experiences you've had. Sure, I'd like to know whether you feel the place is clean, or the workers are friendly. There's absolutely nothing wrong with that. But it seems, more often than I'd like to see, some people forget the most important part of a restaurant review: the food itself.

While it's always nice if the workers are good, you don't go to a restaurant to see nice workers--you go to eat. Yet so many reviews skimp majorly on talking about the food, or neglect it entirely! I don't expect you to list every single item, but do talk about those you've actually tried, whether or not you liked it, and why.

2: Don't confuse restaurants!

For the most part, what you are reviewing is the restaurant you're writing for. It's fine, and even encouraged, to make some comparisons with different places, but even still, the main part of the review should actually be the restaurant you're writing for.

Recently, I'd read a review where the person mentioned they didn't like Popeyes' honey-topped biscuits. There's a problem there: Popeyes doesn't make honey-topped biscuits. Churches does, and I'm sure some other chains I have not visited do, but Popeyes doesn't. This poses me a problem: for everything else in the review, I do not know whether you actually mean Popeyes, or this other restaurant. And I really can't find a review to be helpful if I don't know whether or not you're talking about the right place.

3: Don't overexaggerate!

Did you like something? Did you not like something? We want to know, and the more vivid the description, the better for those of us who may not know what the place is like.

But don't overdo it, either. I'm not going to believe it if you tell me that a certain menu item tastes like blood. I might believe that you found blood in your food (at a very unsanitary restaurant), but I'm not going to believe your food tasted like blood. Likewise, I'm not going to seriously believe that French fries taste anything like rice. You may not like how either tastes, but they're far from identical in flavor.

4: Avoid mixed messages!

So you've given a restaurant 1 star. Yet you still recommend the place. And throughout the review, I really can't get a feel as to whether or not you really like the place or not, likely because certain positives or negatives are put out of perspective. About all that's clear is that your 1 star rating is harsher than your words portray.

Welcome the mixed messages review, a review for which it's almost impossible to really get a feel for the writer's opinion on the place. If I can't figure out how you feel about the restaurant, it's not helpful for anyone else to figure out whether they'd like it or not from your review, but it only serves to confuse.

That's not to say that you should say nothing negative in a positive review, or vice versa. That is encouraged, and it even helps to make your review more believable if you don't treat it as the absolute best or worst thing on the face of the planet. But do be sure to put things in proper perspective: never over-praise or over-complain about anything that isn't too important.

5: Don't complain about food you hate to begin with!

I'm not much of a vegetable person. I absolutely hate salad with a passion. So while I may mention that a restaurant has salad, I'm not going to make a big deal over it.

Why? Because I don't like salad to begin with. Being a salad-hater, it would do you, the reader, no good for me to complain about the salad at any specific restaurant. Obviously, if you loved salad, and you wanted me to warn you on which restaurants had the worst salad, I would not be the person to turn to, as I think every restaurant has the worst salad.

What it boils down to is this: if you don't like salad period, don't complain about the salad at any restaurant. If you don't like hamburgers period (a favorite food of mine, personally), don't complain about the hamburgers at any restaurant. It's pretty simple, really.

6: More opinions, fewer facts!

There's nothing wrong with telling us what's on the menu at any restaurant. There is something wrong, however, if you don't give us your opinions on those menu items, even if it's as simple as "I haven't tried this before." In the days of the Internet, it's pretty simple to just go to any restaurant's website to see what they offer.

But you can write a review that offers something their website cannot: an unbiased opinion on the food. Aside from food, you can give your opinions on other aspects of the restaurant as well, like the service, the prices, and the decor. But however you do it, be sure to give us some opinions with the review, and not just a long laundry list of facts.

7: Don't only talk about a single bad experience.

Here's a complaint that mainly applies to national chain restaurants. Generally, the person writing the review talks about one time they went to a chain restaurant, and got bad service, or bad food. If this happens to be your only experience with the chain, then there's nothing really wrong, as long as you admit so in your review.

The problem comes when a person writes a review, complaining about a bad experience with a chain they've gone to several times before! Sometimes they even claim they still go! Sometimes the person even says something along the lines of "It's usually great, except this one location."

Be fair! While it's great to see you write about your bad experience with the restaurant, you should be fair by writing about your good experiences with them too. If only one location is bad, then don't let the one bad store bog down your review. It should be mentioned, gotten off your chest, sure, but it shouldn't be the main theme of the review.

8: Don't use bad grammar or spelling.

No one's perfect. I'm sure the Grammar Police themselves make a mistake every now and again. I'm certainly not the hardest person to please, grammar-wise. If I can read your review without straining myself, I'm all right with it.

...if only it were that simple. Seems like grammar's mentioned in just about everyone's advice piece here, but that's because it's quite important: if I can't read it, I won't like it. As long as I can read it fairly easily, now, I won't complain. But if you have dozens of misspelled words and no capitalization, that makes it harder for me to read.

Writing in all capital letters makes reading even tougher. It's all right to use it for acronyms, of course (even preferred), and it's all right to make the occasional word stand out from the rest (though generally, using bold or italics is better, I won't fault you for using all-caps instead), but making every word in all capital letters just makes the review so much more difficult to read.

Even worse than that, though, are run-on sentences, perhaps the most difficult thing to read in a review, or elsewhere. The mind needs to make a mental stop every now and then, even if just briefly, to take in the information from a sentence. Run-on sentences never allow that, forcing people to keep reading, while the brain gets an overload of information, and confused, and burnt out. Not good.

9: Don't plagiarize!

Another "no duh," but still needs to be said. Don't copy someone else's work and claim it to be yours. Even if you edit a few words here and there, it's still plagiarized work, and still against Epinions' rules, and still illegal. I'm not usually the quickest to spot it (though have before), but lucky for us all, some other people are.

10: Does it serve Pepsi or Coke products?

It's insignificant, perhaps, but a real peeve of mine. Now, I don't mind if a person doesn't mention whether a restaurant serves Pepsi or Coke products, as it's not really that important anyway. It just eats under my skin, though, when I read a review that mentions the wrong brand for a restaurant. They generally serve one or the other: I've not seen a restaurant that will serve both (though it is possible some I am not familiar with do).

But if I see a review mention Pepsi, when I know it only serves Coke products, or vice versa, it really needs to be fixed, for accuracy's sake. And compared to other problems, quite easy to fix. Just double-check which products are used at any particular restaurant before writing a review.

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About Me: I like The Price is Right, and food, food, FOOD!