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A social-media expert offers her recipe for a useful restaurant review

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Have you ever gone online to read restaurant reviews before making a decision about where to go for dinner? Millions of others have, and for good reason. Folks tend to trust the opinions of their peers and like-minded consumers more than any advertising message.

If Ms. Jones found a particular resto a great choice for brunch, but not so much for business meetings, that’s good information for others looking for the same.

There’s a host of national restaurant-review websites that offer information on past experiences by patrons … And don’t forget local hubs like 7 Nights It’s where natives go to find out what other ones think.

Before you begin wildly tapping into your smartphone or covertly whispering into a lavalier mic at the table, let’s go over what makes a truly useful restaurant review.

Provide relevant information

What’s the restaurant’s name? Where is it located (especially if there are several locations)? Are reservations needed, and if so, was yours honored within a reasonable amount of time? Is there outdoor seating? A fireplace? A view? A bar or lounge? Local procurement? A killer wine list or microbrew selection? Is it kid friendly? Is there a “happy hour”?

Type of cuisine

Does the menu live up to what’s advertised? What did you have? What can you recommend? What should people steer clear of, and why? Do you find the food too salty, sweet, bland or off in any way? Remember, taste is in the buds of the eater — so, if you’re not into oysters but order a couple anyway, don’t hold your experience against the establishment.

Quality for the price

Do you feel you got your money’s worth for the entire meal? Plenty of food for a doggie bag, or not enough for a mouse? Take into consideration freebies such as bread, condiments, refills and fortune cookies: all the little things that make a meal feel complete, yet aren’t itemized on the check.

Mention good and bad price points (hopefully there aren’t any bad ones). No need to list actual prices, but a sense of budget is helpful. For instance, “Perfect spot for a cheap date” or “You’ll empty your wallet, but it’s worth every bite.”

Service

Aside from details about the food, the quality of service is probably the most useful info you can provide to future patrons. Describe your experience, from reservation or host stand to check delivery and farewell. Did you see the chef out on the floor chatting with diners? Were you rushed from course to course or interrupted more than necessary by the server? Was your table maintained at a good pace (water refilled, surface crumbed, dishes cleared at the appropriate moments)? Give praise when earned and offer hints on how the resto could have done better, if needed.

Atmosphere

How was the lighting? Noise level? Music? Artwork? Was the dining area clean and inviting? Were seats, tables and dinnerware in good repair? Did the atmosphere make you feel comfortable and welcome?

Before you post your review, it’s a good idea to visit a place a couple of times. But if you feel your experience was so review worthy it just can’t wait, by all means post it. It’s also a good idea to check your facts, lest a fellow reviewer be inspired to call you out on a minor detail.

What not to write

(1) If you own or manage a restaurant, don’t review it. Fake reviews can be sniffed out a mile away. And, while review websites can be a thorn in a biz owner’s side, they can also offer tips on how she’s getting it right or how he can better execute service … from a customer’s perspective. Take advantage of that aspect, and respond accordingly.

(2) Don’t give bogus information. Unless there really was a fly in the soup, don’t slander a place because you have an ax to grind or were slighted by the busboy. If there is a fly in the soup, or any other major snafu, by all means bring it to the attention of the staff while you’re still there — they really do want to please their customers. Once you’ve left and posted a review, it may be too late for them to resolve the issue in a timely way.

(3) Don’t be a potty mouth.

Sharpen your online pencils!

Don’t wait for Vermont Restaurant Week to get reviewing — plug a few of your fave places to see how it works, and then dig in for a couple of truly useful write-ups that will benefit others in your community.

Editor’s note: This guide is excerpted from DeepDishCreative.com, with permission from owner-writer Lara Dickson.

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