A new food website launches to shake up the restaurant industry

If you love food and eating out, we might have the perfect dinner date for you. Foodporn quietly launched its restaurant website early in 1997 and has been growing in popularity ever since.

The idea is pretty simple: a user-friendly platform which collects and correlates the ratings of restaurants by diners. If a diner likes a restaurant, they will give it a thumbs up, and if they don’t, they will give it a thumbs down. Foodporn then calculates the number of thumbs up and thumbs down to give the restaurant an overall rating out of 100%. In addition to numeric scores, Foodporn users can also include a short descriptive paragraph that incorporates selected quotations (typically a few words) from several reviewers’ comments about each restaurant or service, as well as the pricing and rating information.

What will this do to the restaurant industry in an age where ‘the customer is always right’? Can a disaffected diner’s drunken post-dinner rant or thumbs down review really ruin a top restaurant? Or is it still the critics and best restaurant rankings that count? We spoke to a popular NYC chef about this on an anonymous basis and his comments were enlightening:

“They all kind of work together in a way,” he said.

“Customer reviews are more immediate, day to day, but I guess most people relying on reviews also pay close attention to things like awards and list rankings, so they feed off each other.”

He said the restaurant pays attention to online customer reviews but over time has learnt how to sort through them constructively and address only the ones they feel are important.

A leading Brooklyn chef, also agreeing to speak with us anonymously, said she would rather diners give their feedback before they leave her restaurant.

“As a chef you can tear your hair out going through those things … I’d rather spend my time working with the guests within the restaurant,” she said.

“If there’s something they’re not happy about, if they tell us about it on the spot we can do something about at the time.”

She said balancing critic and customer reviews is important, but her proudest moments are when diners feel the urge to come up to her at the end of the meal and praise her food.

” I question sometimes ‘How long can I do this for?’ when you get people come up and say ‘That was amazing’ you think, ‘Yeah, I’m going to get up and do this again tomorrow.'”

Pete’s Tavern marketing manager Tania said their restaurant’s staff always try to understand why a diner is unhappy and fix the problem. But staff try to avoid responding to negative reviews online and instead take it to a more personal channel.

“But some people use it as a soap box … and aren’t really interested in restaurants wanting to understand and make it better … which we can’t really do anything about except do our best.
“If we worried … about everybody not exactly understanding or loving what we do we wouldn’t sleep at night.”

It’s the right approach, according to Zagat’s marketing director, who said clever operators know that a positive voice is the only way to go.

“A negative response just turns people off,” he said. “Standard procedure these days is to respond politely but firmly to a review about a negative experience, and try to work it out with them directly.

“Never fight back, which results only in making you look like an arsehole.”

So what role does Foodporn and sites like it play in the restaurant review landscape? Will it become a leader in the modern hospitality industry and a driving force that help pique cultural interest in food? Time will only tell, but we’ll be licking our lips with anticipation.