When I was in college, I shared a apartment with a female roommate. Sad to say, we were both total slobs - lazy drunken slobs. It was shameful. You wouldn't think two gals could live in such a trash heap, but to my chagrin, we did. Instead of cleaning, we spent time drinking $2 pitchers of Old Swill at the Beer Stube. My roomie - we'll call her Betty to protect the not so innocent- had parents who were very generous with the monetary gifts - allowing us to "further our studies" of cheap beer and cute guys on her parent's dime. The only catch was that twice a year, Betty's parents would come down and spend the weekend in Columbus. Part of the visit included stopping by our apartment before taking us out to dinner. Since we KNEW when they were coming, we would spend the two days before the visit cleaning our pad from top to bottom, making sure that everything was spic and span, that we strategically placed our textbooks and "notes" from class where they could be easily spied and that our fridge was totally empty of anything except a bottle of ketchup and an expired yogurt - since we were starving college students. When Betty's parents appeared at the appointed hour, we were the neatest, most upstanding, hardworking co-eds that ever attended OSU.
So what does that have to do with restaurant reviews?
Imagine that a restaurateur knew that a reviewer and a photographer from a local newspaper were coming for a visit. Don't you think that the restaurateur would make sure everything was spic and span - just like Betty and I did when we knew her parents and their checkbook were coming to visit?
I read Jon Christensen's review of Bamboo Cafe in this week's week Dispatch. Amazing how Bamboo Cafe went from a one star restaurant to a four star restaurant when The Dispatch food critic and a photographer showed up. Do you think there was an advance phone call? Did the folks at Bamboo Cafe get a chance to hide their dirty laundry before the man with the credentials showed up? I am going bet on one of two things - either there was an advance call or someone at the Bamboo Cafe ran a psychic hotline before they opened the restaurant. I know where I would put my money.
My question is:
Will you - the man on the street - have the same dining experience as Jon the Dispatch reviewer?
It depends on two things
a) are you a paid restaurant reviewer?
b) Do you have any way to influence the public's opinion of this restaurant?
Since I doubt that most you get paid to eat out, I will guess that the answer to question A is "No!".
However,the answer to question B is "Yes"! The Internet gives you - the average person - power to let others know of your "covert" visits to the various restaurants you patronize. Any restaurant who trots out their A game for a KNOWN reviewer is not a good place to patronize. You will only end up being disappointed and have a kid who dropped out of college after three years (Poor Betty!)
Instead, find a good restaurant that you like and vote for them with your wallet. Let people know through sites like Urbanspoon or Columbus Underground. The everyday experience is what counts in the long run, not what any reviewer - including me - says. Your experience will determine how you should feel about a restaurant. You should only use a review as a guide, not words from the burning bush.