How to rate restaurants

I am a frequent user of Zomato, and its predecessor Urbanspoon. I use it to find good places to eat and I also give back by providing my own ratings.

In the beginning, I would sometimes spend a while mulling over what rating to give. My dining experience is often multifaceted and I am forced to distil it to a single categorical rating, or even just a binary rating in Urbanspoon’s case! What if the food was delicious but the service terrible? The venue well designed but very noisy due to construction across the road? If I enjoyed my meal but thought it was overpriced?

I certainly can’t convey all of that nuance with a single rating. As a result, if I feel like I need to say something specific I will actually write a short review. However, I also want to make my numerical rating as meaningful as possible. What’s the best approach?

Would you recommend it?

I decided to think about how my ratings would be used by others. When I look up a restaurant, I am interested in one thing: should I dine there?

To rate the places I visit I answer that question directly. Namely, would I recommend it to a friend?

Back when Urbanspoon was in existence, that was it. The answer would be a straight ‘yes’ or ‘no’, and I was done. Easy, straightforward.

I was surprised how much easier my job became simply by framing a clear, actionable question. Urbanspoon was already as easy as you can get, allowing only a binary rating. Nevertheless, without the clarity of a question I was sometime still unsure of how to rate some places.

Beyond binary ratings

When Urbanspoon got taken over by Zomato, I was sad to see the elegantly simple binary ratings replaced by a messier 5-star system. I was once again in limbo. I needed a framework for giving clear, consistent, meaningful ratings on a 5-point scale. Here’s what I came up with.

I ask myself the following questions:

  1. Was I generally happy with the food and service?
  2. Would I recommend this place to a friend?
  3. Would I come back again?

Any restaurant that got a ‘yes’ for the first question starts with a rating of 3/5. Each extra ‘yes’ for the next two questions gets an additional 1/5. If the answer to the first question is ‘no’ (in which case, all of them will be ‘no’), then I will rate it 2/5, or bump it down to 1/5 if the experience was so terrible than I think the place should be forcibly shut down.

With this framework in place, I find rating restaurants straightforward once again.

Perhaps Zomato should implement a system of questions like this, rather than letting people give arbitrary numbers from 1 to 5?

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