Cleveland has a couple of restaurants that have recently opened, Dante Buccuzzi's Dante last weekend and Zack Bruell's Chinato tonight. Much like the arrival of a newborn baby, everyone is anxious to see the latest addition to the Cleveland restaurant family.
As people scurry to see the "latest and greatest" that two of the more well known chefs in the city have to offer, there will inevitably be an avalanche of blog posts chronicling the ups and downs of the decor, the dinners, and the service. Opinions typically run the gamut from gushing to gruesome. For some diners there is a sense of realistic expectations for a newly opened establishment; while others are much less forgiving.
Is there much value in a review of a restaurant that has been open for two weeks, or less? I think it's fair to say that the only thing such a review is apt to reveal is how prepared management was for the grand opening. If there is a restaurateur out there that hasn't had these growing pains I'd like to know who it is. In the first few months there are numerous additions and subtractions in trying to strike the right balance in the entire staff.
I think reviews from patrons have very little value if they're on the extreme end of the critical scale, especially early on. If someone writes an absolutely gushing review, the expectations are going to be next to impossible for an establishment to meet. I've heard on a number of occasions where people say, "I went to such and such a place because people raved about it. I didn't think it was that good." In some cases maybe they might have had an off night. I, however, would argue that the food was fine, but the expectations were way out of line. Rave reviews should be reserved for places worth raving about.
The other end of the critical spectrum is the person that nitpicks at every little thing and ultimately brands the entire experience a monumental failure. An excessively negative review does nothing to educate prospective diners as to what they can expect. I have eaten at quite a few restaurants in my life and I think I count on one hand how many abysmal dining experiences I've had in my life. If such bad experiences are as commonplace as the one I've had, I can't help but to believe they will be in business for long.
The worst possible review is when a place is skewered during that period of time when they're still trying to iron out the kinks during the first few weeks. The chances are that this review will continue to get referenced well after all of the problems have been worked out. How fair is that?
When I read a post I want to know what the general vibe of the place is, what level of skill the food is at, where the good and bad places to sit are, and what some of the recommended dishes are. There was a point in time when I used to give the play-by-play of the entire meal, complete with pictures. Coming to the realization that this whole thing was turning into uninteresting and poorly photographed story that no one found all that interesting, I severely pruned the pictures and food descriptions. In the end I think painting a general picture of a restaurant's flavor is much more appealing (and useful).
How long are people supposed to wait before they're "allowed" to post on a restaurant? I don't think there's any set time period; just a different level of expectation dependent on how close you go relative to the place opening. Do I have the same expectation for the service after one week versus one month versus one year? If it takes forever to get food after a month then I think there's a problem. If there's still a problem with food coming out after a year, there's a good chance they're on the verge of failure, or on Ramsay's Kitchen Nightmares. This information only becomes useful once it's put into the right context.
At the end of the day these are people's livelihoods. Extreme posts don't help anyone, be it gushing or ghastly. The ridiculously positive sets unattainable expectations for future diners. Extremely negative reviews never give the restaurant a chance to win prospective patrons over in the first place. I will actually add an update to a review from early in a restaurant's life if they've corrected a problem, like here. The important thing to remember is that long after our posts are up these businesses still have to deal with these words after we've forgotten about them.