I'm kind of pulling out my hair trying to plan my annual summer vacation, as I've been combing vacation review sites, such as TripAdvisor.com, for ideas on the perfect destination for my husband and me.
They’ve been no help.
It’s not too different from when I check out the reviews before I try a new restaurant or service provider.
The internet provides a quick and easy resource to scour others’ opinions on what’s good or bad about a beach resort, taco truck or plumbing company.
But sometimes you have to read 20 reviews to find one that’s useful.
I know they can be helpful.
I just interviewed a restaurateur for a story for an upcoming edition of Lehigh Valley Business, and he told me he regularly reads the online reviews to see what people are saying so he can stress the things people say they like and improve on anything they didn’t.
He even memorized his star ratings from the major review sites.
He credits the resources for helping him keep his restaurant the best it can be.
But they also can be a waste of internet space.
There was another guy I talked to who runs a food truck that operates at various locations throughout the Lehigh Valley.
He has a new neighbor, a neighbor who apparently doesn’t like his dog.
When he recently checked an online review of his business, he found that his neighbor – skipping a review of his food truck, which the man admitted he had never tried – had used the restaurant review site to complain that the food truck owner left his dog outside, barking all night, at his home.
While I can understand the frustration of someone losing sleep to a loud barker, that post had to be just about one of the most egregious abuses of a review site.
Not only was it a little aggressive – you woke me up, I’ll hurt your business – it was the wrong way to handle a private dispute, and probably violates the review site’s terms of service.
The problem is it’s not just about one inappropriate review. It seems that too many people just don’t know how to leave a proper review.
Listen, I get it. Maybe as a journalist I’m a bit biased about telling the story the right way, but I’m not asking for a New York Times lifestyle section quality review, just some useful facts.
Taking out the people who are clearly just pumping up a place because they are friends with the owners, and the same with those trashing it because they’re the competition or they’re mad about the owner’s dog, you still have a lot of people who just don’t know how to write a review that’s helpful.
Let’s take a review of a Caribbean resort: “There were a lot of bugs, and it was damp with a mildew smell.”
Yes, you’re in the Caribbean during the rainy season. It’s going to be wet and buggy. It’s not the resort’s fault.
How about: “Carlos was such a great bartender, always friendly and made great drinks.”
Do you expect me to walk around the entire resort asking for Carlos because a woman on the internet said he made great margaritas?
Or how about: “The food was bad” “the food was mediocre” “the food was fantastic.”
I don’t know your tastes. Those descriptions mean nothing to me.
Tell me what was good. Were there a good variety and good portions? Was everything fresh? Could they accommodate special dietary needs?
Those will answer specific questions a future traveler might have.
Other good questions to address:
• What is the age of the crowd? Is it a party scene with a bunch of 20-somethings or a more laid back location for older people?
• Is the service friendly in general or do they say “no problem” but walk away with a scowl on their face when you ask for something?
• What is there to do and what is worth doing?
• Do you think you received good value?
Look for similar advice if reviewing a restaurant:
• Were the prices fair for what you got?
• Was food fresh and properly cooked?
• How was fast was the service? But, make sure to mention if the place was busy or empty.
• Is the place clean?
• How was the ambiance? Was it romantic, fancy, casual, family friendly, quiet, loud?
For services, the basics matter:
• Did the professional deliver services as promised?
• Was the work completed promptly and properly?
• Were the workers friendly, clean and polite?
• Was the price fair?
Sure, add a little color. Perhaps you have a little extra experience or expertise with a certain subject, so let people know so your opinion holds more water.
If your experience was bad, don’t be afraid to say it, just explain why it was bad and whether or not it was a one-off deal such as “it rained on my vacation” or “the air conditioning was broken the day I ate at the café” before you throw a place under the bus as just plain no good.
Certainly, throw in an amusing anecdote or two to show a deeper look at the experience, but don’t forget the basics – those could make or break a person’s decision to follow in your footsteps.
Most of all, be honest. An honest review can make someone else make a more informed decision and have a better overall experience.