Why asking for a recommendation is better than asking if something is good.


Why are we only allowed to ask people for restaurant recommendations versus asking people if a restaurant is good or not?

This is a question that I get with some frequency, especially from those who don’t entirely agree with the direction of EatGR.   Some people think that this is a distinction without a difference, but it really isn’t .

When somebody says that a restaurant is good, it is less important.  People will usually continue to go to that restaurant and explore their menu.   If somebody says that a restaurant is bad, however, they are truncating their own discovery process as well as that of others.  If somebody feels that a restaurant is bad they are probably never going there again.  They are also likely to tell friends, family, and Group Members that they know that the restaurant is bad and should be avoided.   Unfortunately, on some level, their personal assessment of that restaurant is wrong. The best way for me to explain this is with Venn diagrams.


Is this restaurant bad? ( Let’s refer to this restaurant as “Frontiers”)

On the surface this restaurant looks absolutely awful. There is only one item on the menu that I like, but it is the best item of that genre in the entire city.  I would crawl over broken glass to order that one menu item because is that good.   So now, somebody asks the question:  “can somebody tell me if Frontiers is any good?” Well, 96 % of that menu is junk (IMHO), but the one menu item is to die for.  Everybody else who has gone there and has not ordered the one magnificent item start to chime in: ” no that place is awful”,  “I have never had a good experience there”, ” completely avoid that place”.

Are they right?  Yes and no.

This is where the failure of  the short-sighted criteria of “good and bad” lies.  By asking “What do you recommend?”, those “in the know” are able to present the information that they have to those who do not.  “That place has the most amazing Pastrami in West Michigan!”  That pastrami might be the only good menu item that they have, but it is certainly a “must have”.   Lest you think this is exaggeration, there are probably five restaurants in Grand Rapids that I lump into this category.  I go to them for their one item and their one item only.

57 %  of the menu items in this restaurant are things that I would deem to be good.
57 % of the menu items in this restaurant are things that I would deem to be good.


Is this restaurant any good?

Well, The majority of the menu items would be considered good, but it really depends on what you order (as it always does).  Maybe you order the same one or two items every time and they fall into the good side of things.  “OMG, they have the best corned beef ever and their chicken salad is divine”.  That person might never order anything else because they found their 2 favorites. But what if you ordered from the other side of that diagram (menu) the only 2 times you had been there?  Again, you can see that good is relative based on the luck of the draw.  Perhaps you ordered on two different days and got one good menu item and one bad one.  “Maybe I should give them another try” is a very common phrase that I hear.  I suspect that this is why.  This is simply people working their way through the menu to find the good items.  Again, by asking the group for their recommendations, we are able to access the help needed to point us in the right direction.  If somebody shouts out that this restaurant is bad which then causes you to not go there, you are now missing a ton of great food because of one blanket statement made by one person.

92% of the menu items are good.
92% of the menu items are good.

Finally, the no-brainer, or is it?

I know that most of you folks can name the 2-3 restaurants that always fall into this category.  Everybody loves the place and raves about it, but there are those 2 little menu items on the left half of the diagram (Menu) that fall out of what you consider to be good.  If you went to this restaurant twice and ordered those two items, you would have a completely different take on that restaurant than 92% of the people.  “What do people see in this place?”  “I can’t stand going there, it was a complete disappointment.”  Then, when somebody posts from there, everybody is raving about it and you are the “Debbie Downer” chiming in with your disdain for the place.  You also tend to chime in with negative thoughts multiple times because you are fighting the tide of positive comments that you cannot relate to.

So, how do you determine if the restaurant is good?  Is it based on the percentage of “good items?”   If so, what percentage makes it good? Is it based on the fact that they have the best corned beef in town and nothing else on the menu matters.  You can see that the words “good” and “bad” are terribly subjective and do not apply to everybody.  More specifically, somebody else’s experiences have relatively little bearing on what your experience might be like.

This is why I urge people to take the route of telling us what you liked about a restaurant and not what you dislike.  It is possible that 90% of the menu offerings may be junk in your eyes, but perhaps there is a gem on that menu that everybody should know about.  If you are only left with the option of  telling people that the restaurant  is “Good or Bad”,  there is a decent chance that you will overlook  great menu items and quite possibly miss out on some amazing food.

So, I urge everybody to ask people what they like about a restaurant, process the information,  and  then go try it for yourself.  You are the final judge of what is good for you, not that complete stranger that you just asked for a tip.

There is a lot of great food to be had in the Grand Rapids area.  Pay attention and don’t limit your options.


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