Cafes, Bloggers and Reviews

Whether or not you agree with ratings and crowd sourced or blogger reviews, there is no denying their influence. Enough to make or break a business? Maybe, maybe not, though in an increasingly connected world, where we are all constantly encouraged to “rate” our purchases or experiences, a large amount of data is available for those who wish to look.

Reviews, Ratings and Blogs

Often being on the lookout for quality coffee, one site and app I often consult is Beanhunter, which was created to fulfill this exact need.

James Crawford, Co-founder of Beanhunter in Beanscene magazine:

Beanhunter is about engaging coffee enthusiasts with great coffee shops. It’s a platform for people to know where great coffee is located and expose coffee shops, that’s why it started.

Which then brings us to blogs. Yes, point taken – look at the blogger judging the bloggers! From the same article:

If Catherine has a “mediocre experience”, she says she won’t hesitate to share it with her followers. “Why should I not write about it just because it’s negative? I think of it as a warning to others to keep in mind what they can expect to happen, whether it be bad food or bad service,” she says. “I guess [reviews] do have the potential to hurt a business, but if there are so many negative reviews about a particular venue, then they must be doing something wrong.

Fair enough, however why should I “expect” a negative experience to happen? Or will I simply not go at all, relying on someone else’s opinion (who I know nothing about) that a particular place of business is not worthy of even a second look or the benefit of the doubt. That perhaps they were visited on a day when the senior barista was away at a competition, the boss was off with the flu, and the remaining staff were doing everything in their power just to keep the doors open.

So, much-needed guidance or more confusion? That is for readers to decide, however many a blog with a strong following and sound reader engagement will wield a good deal of influence on consumer behaviour. The downside? In all of the writer and reader interaction, the one left out in the cold is often the proprietor of the establishment being critiqued. The scenario mentioned above? Perhaps enough to warrant a low star review and scathing few words, when a simple word to staff or management may have resolved any particular issue with product or service on the day.

Sometimes it’s a little too easy to judge, and judge in front of a large audience at that.

On a blog or well patronised crowd sourced review site, the particular review in question may sit at the top of the posts for a little or a long time, allowing a great many potential customers to view it. Will they necessarily realise this is an aberration in the generally stellar performance of a particular establishment. Maybe, maybe not. Such a scenario may be where the numbers and the average review rating saves the day.

Of course let’s not forget there are those cases with consistently poor service of an inferior product, which is another matter entirely, and neither numbers nor words will save you here.

Penny Wolff, of Brisbane’s Dandelion and Driftwood on reviews:

“This form of communication can be detrimental because business owners can’t control people’s opinions. In most cases, they don’t have the opportunity to rectify the issue or respond to the review and that’s just frustrating for the business owner.”

Even if the business owner reaches out to the person who was supposedly wronged with an explanation and attempted clarification of a situation (as was the case on Twitter recently by a very well-respected establishment on the Brisbane coffee scene), it can be met with a meaningless response “ok thanks, I’ll be sure to mention that to your competition down the road”.

One expert or a hundred reviewers

At the end of the day, isn’t it all about personal opinion anyway? And if so, should we trust one expert reviewer (however that may be defined) or listen to the collective voice of hundreds of our peers? In many ways this is indeed a double-edged sword, and perhaps the answer lies in whether consumers really understand what they are going to get for their hard-earned cash.

Beyond the fact that the collective voice of our peers can be tainted by personal prejudice which sometimes descends into unruly nonsense, we also must acknowledge we have different levels of experience, tastes and preferences.

Perhaps this is where a specialised review site such as Beanhunter has an advantage over more generalised sites, in being a little more limited to those specifically seeking out a positive coffee experience rather than stretching across the entire restaurant, cafe and bar scene. On the other side of the coin, does this then skew ratings towards the specialist end of the cafe scene? I don’t necessarily think so, as even within a defined review ecosystem such as Beanhunter, tastes and experience do cross a reasonably sized spectrum.

The point here? There will always be differences in knowledge, experience, and preferences of groups at either end of the expert-novice spectrum, as this article on beer tasting from Business Insider demonstrates.

It’s your opinion not mine

The final word? Make up your own mind, because at the end of the day, surely the benefit of the doubt should go to those who have just done their best to serve you, with the resources they have, on the particular day you visit.

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