Tripping Out over Trip Advisor – for good or for bad


I’ve got a few businesses of which involve being reviewed. I’ve got three holiday barns, along with a cookery school and my Food & Drink walking Tours. Then to top off that I have a guest book full of all sorts of feed-back, e-mail comment forms and occasionally a little note left in one of the barns – – –  thankfully most of which are good, honest and legitimate feedback, along with a little bit of useful constructive criticism.


When it’s good, its bloomin lovely – but every now and then you get one that every so much ‘anoys ya’.


Like when someone commented what a great location our holiday barns were in and then marked it 7 out of 10 bringing our score from a perfect 10 to a 9.6. Or the one that marked a negative comment saying ‘it would be helpful to be left some oil’, but I’m not allowed to leave open bottles as part of my grading but I do say in my guest book ‘simply ask for some and I’ll bring it over – that left me a sad face emoji on my review page. Nothing much – but for someone who seeks perfection as the owner, main cleaner, bottle washer and manager I do take it personally.

Even though I should be taking it with a pinch of Maldon sea-salt.


But of course, when the review is a blatant lie, over exaggerated jack-a-nory, or a nasty malicious rant then it can be heart breaking as well as business crippling. Once a review is live it’s hard to get it removed.

And some people’s stilton is another person’s mould!


I heard a guest chef speaking last night and he said he once got a negative reviews because someone pulled up outside, looked at the menu, didn’t like anything on it and drove off – only to go straight on to TA and rant. Not Fare!!!


On the other hand, I do use reviews as a way to make choices. I have without doubt been put off hotels and restaurants by reviews. I’m also cautious to read between the lines and sort the wheat from the chaff. Those midnight pissed up wine reviews, or those ‘I just got kicked out of a club’ reviews or the waitress didn’t kiss my arse enough reviews or my mate bought a café on the same road so I’m going to dish your café review. Or I’m new to this so got all my mates to big me up reviews – – it all happens, we’re dealing with the general public here!!!!


One of my holiday home customers threatened to give me a bad review when I delayed to give him his deposit back until an order came from his company (he got discount for product, but it took over 2 months to receive it) he said ‘well that’s what review sites are for’.

So, we all know some people write reviews out of revenge – luckily the product came and his deposit got returned, as I said it would – nasty little man!


But then there’s the places that really are not up to scratch – a few years ago I had one of the worst meals I’d had in all my life. We took family to the theatre and booked in to a restaurant in the middle of Norfolk. The head chef was the owner, his wife front of house. The menu on their website was different to the one we got that night and the prices were hiked. It was like overcooked 70’d Fanny Craddick food, the desserts were terrible, all decorated with spray cream and a cherry!! The chef walked round the tables at one point, arguing about politics & generally being a (possible drunken) knob. The bill was over £200 and we all walked out feeling violated.


Unfortunately for us, I hadn’t checked it out on Trip advisor or I wouldn’t have been disappointed and I would have been £100 better off and much happier.


Here’s where I have to admit I write for Trip Advisor – it’s all about good food to me, giving people helpful tips and promoting what’s good. I have strict rules to be positive, I don’t want to be nasty and I certainly wouldn’t lie. I’ve been in catering for 30 years – I know what it’s like to be judged, I’ve had people criticise my food and it hurts. People don’t know what it’s like to work in catering, the long hours, the hard work, the delivery the preparation and the service. Some people comment on the silliest of things – sometimes misjudged, sometimes out of ignorance, sometimes delusional. Let’s face it most of the infamous food reviewers & food writers can’t actually cook!


It’s not in a chef’s place to argue – the manager will say the guest is always right, AND THEY ARE so when you cook a steak medium and they moan its under cooked, or they think the lemon tart is too tart, or the chilli is too hot. You just replace it or make it again – it’s all about satisfying your customer – but the customer isn’t always right – we can’t review them! We just smile, serve, handle any issues and take their money. Caterers have to be professional – ranting, arguing, or taking it personally just leads to ‘T’rouble. Walk away – – –

And some peoples delicious tender ‘Tartar’ is another person’s ‘chopped raw steak, with a bloody raw egg on top, errrr’ ‘I thought I ordered steak’ said one customer.


This ‘bad meal experience’ left me in a dilemma, I don’t like to rant, I don’t like to complain, I’m happy to give constructive criticism but I don’t ever want to be one of those TA nutters who let of steam in a bad review – – So I wrote a less than positive review – – – I truly felt, that couple had been serving that food since the 70’s and it simply hadn’t moved with the times, even a decade! Of course, I didn’t say that but I truthfully mentioned I felt it was overpriced, it was over cooked and the menu was dated – as well as pointing out the menu and prices on the website didn’t reflect the menu when you got there. I also requested in a hopefully positive way that walking round the tables for glory was dated and embarrassing.

We used to have to do that at college in 85, I hated it then being the caterer and I hate it now being the customer.


After all people, really should know what they’re going to be getting – it’s not about ripping the customer off, or hashing it all. Not all food places get it right, they don’t always need to be reviewed because they would fail anyway. And not all business that fail are bad – there’s more to running a restaurant than cooking – service, quality, position, management, atmosphere, cleanliness, pricing and advertising all play a part.


Ironically this restaurant featured in a document about ‘how bad reviews on TA effect business’, they have nearly 300 reviews on TA and only 14 are marked terrible, 8 poor and 11 average – so, still doing ok, still open.  And what one person thinks is hideous is another person’s beauty. Some people like pizza hut! they’ll que out of the door. Some people like turkey twizzlers while others think tagliatelle is exotic – we don’t all have the same tastes. That’s why mum’s goes to Iceland!


Anyway, I felt guilty writing my first less than positive review (to be honest I gave it poor but then rewrote it and marked it an average) – after all service was good, plenty to choose from on the menu, ok toilets, handy location and the restaurant was decorated well – there’s always positives too and I like to offer a balanced review, even though the food was shocking.



I’m proud that I’ve written over 350 reviews, with nearly 30,000 points, 59 badges, holding the top badge of 150,000 reads & a top contributor badge. Yet, at the same time I don’t like to openly admit I do reviews – I know my professional colleagues, fellow caterers and social media mates would hate me #dontjudgeme


You see, I’ve analysed the psychology regarding the sort of people who review and I’ve come up with a chart –

I won’t go in to it too much but there is a lot of power hungry, control loving, unprofessional, fake foodies that cause all sorts of stress and anguish to businesses and I’d hate anyone to think I was in anyway associated to that small minority of reviewers.

It’s all for the love of food – honest.


Of, course I feel I’m different with over 30 years’ experience and several decades of eating out, along with traveling to eat. Food is all I know! So, it’s just another branch of my foodie life, along with the other branch of being a mystery diner (I won’t go in to that too much either – but if you want an honest professional assessment, I’m your girl #lovenorwichfood)



It’s all very well getting angry at reviews and taking it personally but reviews are also good for keeping up standards. They can boost a business as much as damage it. My holiday barns are graded every year – I know I can’t let my standards slide, the white gloves come out and the nitty gritty is analysed with a monocle! – Literally!!!


So, let’s say the waiter picks his nose (like I saw last month in a café, no I didn’t dish it on TA, I told his mum (the owner)) and half the menu items are sold out (like some where I went a few weeks ago, I accepted it) and the toilets haven’t been cleaned for ever (that’s a big part of mystery dining assessments) and the food is past its sell by date (seen that too – send it back talk to the manager) and there is maggots in the bacon (ok, it was a cauliflower, yes, I talked to the boss, mistakes happen) – – maybe if all this happens and you get no joy from the management, Trip Advisor is useful as a monitor.


If it’s bad there really is nowhere to hide with social media, review sites and ‘boomerang’! –  and that can be very useful to the consumer.


It was only yesterday that I got sent a Trip Advisor review request from a food business mailing list. And I was happy to oblige – – I’d been there several times, I loved it and writing a review helps people make choices, it promotes the business – it helps Norwich, it helps our economy, it helps local people, local employees and local businesses.


Alcamista coffee shop is zooming up the trip advisor scale and rightly so, the brand is cool, the coffee amazing, the shop neat, the service friendly.

No1 on Trip advisor is The Grosvenor Fish and Chip shop, a regular stop on my Food and Drink Walking tours of Norwich. It’s not ‘no 1’ for nothing, it’s because 100’s of people love it – the menu is amazing, who else makes Wako Taco, the branding, restaurant, service, cleanliness and efficiency is all top notch, plus you can take em to the Birdcage across the road or eat on one of those funky chairs outside.

They do it all right. 1642 people have rated it excellent – even then there is a few marked terrible, mainly from people complaining the food is cooked in beef fat. As I said you can’t please everybody.

Someone’s fish is another person’s smelly feet.


When it’s good – its good.

But maybe when its bad – it is bad.

Even when its good it can be slightly bad and even when its bad it can be kind of alright.


Maybe it just needs to be monitored, there should be no lies, no nastiness or vendettas and certainly no ruining hard working business. And even then, we should take it all with a pinch of salt. Preferably salt and vinegar.


I love it – I hate it – but either way review sites aint going nowhere.


Read between the lines, grab the constructive criticism and do your best.

And even when your best isn’t good enough – just brush it off.



I give this blog 10/10 – – – yer, that’s my review!!!!


(and I don’t like steak tartar!)




By Zena Leech-Calton ©