Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Do away with star ratings?

Posted By on Tue, Feb 28, 2012 at 12:04 PM

Over the weekend, the Huffington Post published a story containing the opinion that star ratings are an outdated way to rate restaurants. The gist was basically that stars used to denote fanciness, and now restaurants are more casual we have no idea what they mean any more. Oh noes!

Instead, author Andrew Friedman suggests a system a friend of his used to employ, which was a score out of 100. Each restaurant, regardless of level of fanciness, started with a perfect score of 100, and points were deducted from there.

I'm not sure how this is much different from the star system, except that almost all critics I know reserve their highest star rating (for CL and the AJC, 5 stars) for upscale restaurants. I will happily give 4 stars to an ethnic spot or a pizza joint, although many of my critic compatriots think that's crazy. But the fifth star, to me, should be reserved for fine dining, if only because people often look to five star restaurants for extremely special occasions, and because service and wine should be pretty much perfect, which is unlikely at anything but an upscale restaurant. Not impossible. But unlikely.

I have two issues with the idea that star ratings are confusing. 1. No they aren't. They say exactly what they mean - as in, 1 star, fair, 2 stars, good, etc. 2. If you're still confused you could always, you know, read the review.

All that said, I'd love to do away with the stars altogether. Everyone spends so much time thinking about the star ratings, me included, the result is that the conversation becomes diverted from the meat of the matter, which is the restaurant itself. I'd love to give up thinking about stars and concentrate on thinking about the food and drink, which is the point, right? America's most decorated restaurant critic Jonathan Gold doesn't use any kind of rating system, and apparently people still read his reviews.

But we've convinced ourselves that you, dear readers, wouldn't stand for a rating-less review. And so we stick with the imperfect system, the one we know. I believe the stars still work, even in this age of casual dining.

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