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"Restaurant" Review: My Blogger’s Manifesto and McDonald’s in the North Terminal of Gatwick Airport

This is a review of a McDonald’s. Specifically this is a review of the McDonald’s in the departure lounge of Gatwick’s North Terminal. It is inevitably going to get pretentious but bear with me as it serves a point.

There are “issues” that I am having to grapple with now I have been blogging a bit (and it is not just the pain of reading your own prose on the screen). One is that you have to develop your rationale for blogging. I’ve done this grudgingly and by experimentation as I’ve gone along and what it has boiled down to is that I have two rules:

1. I only review what I pay for; and
2. I go to places I review anonymously (not that hard).

So far so boring.

The reason for these rules is that I started blogging as I had read too many reviews by big name critics such as Fay Maschler or Jay Raynor which are of no reference or relevance to anyone but them. They are spotted a mile off. Let’s put it like this, if Fay Maschler or Jay Raynor say the service (and especially the service) or food are good a “domestic” eater could go along and be put in the loo, spat on and fed raw chicken. For me a proper restaurant critic has to be anonymous in order for their review to be truly valid rather than an interesting story (bravo NYT and Time Out).

I’ve also read too many reviews which are extended puff pieces or where it has obviously not been paid for. This person knows that person or doesn’t want to offend someone else. So you go to a restaurant and expect one thing, pay money you have earnt (rather than a newspaper’s or a PR agency’s) and you get a meal which can be completely at odds with what you have been led to expect.

However, I have come across a problem which is more difficult to resolve. When I go to a restaurant I review it on a once off basis. I know certain reviewers go twice or thrice but I neither have the money or the time to do so. When I have had a bad meal I have no desire to shovel further money in a restaurant’s pocket. The problem with this is, we all have off days. In a food community such as NY where blogging and citizen reviewing websites are profligate one comment doesn’t stand out so much. However, here, in London, where blogging and reviewing is still in its infancy one blog post might have no context by which to judge it. Because of this, going forward, I am going to try and link to other reviews which might be completely at odds with what my experience was as context and numbers of (good or bad) reviews count.

Still, I believe it is valid to review on the basis of one experience as it is not as though restaurants don’t charge you for that first (bad) visit.

The way this links into McDonald’s is there is also another thing you realise when you start blogging. Often you have to fight with your memory and struggle to review something without accumulated experience. With McDonald’s this is especially so as you have to fight those childhood parties that baked a love of McDonald’s into your soul. You also have to rage against the apparent effect that high fat foods have on you in stimulating opioids or “pleasure chemicals”.

So McDonald’s – chips great, double cheese burger trash genius, quarter pounder like rank cardboard and chicken McNuggets like tastless reconstituted chunks of death.

Price – £4 a head

PS it is worth having a look at Kristain’s post on Londonelicious where some serious comment was had on the more basic question of freebies. Post is here.

13 Comments

  1. Lizzie

    How very noble of you.

    It's an old and (very) tired argument; I don't see a problem in it as long as there's full disclosure, so the reader can make their own mind up.

  2. Charmaine

    Fair points Tom – and I agree with the fact that not everyone has the time, money nor will to go back to a restaurant where they've already had a bad 'one off' experience.

  3. Tom

    Lizzie – sorry the top of the review is a distraction. The real focus is meant to be the one visit thing. In London Yelp and Qype etc. are in their infancy and therefore one bad blog review might be all that there is.

    In those circumstances I am beginning to feel that there is almost a higher burden a blogger has to go to.

    Also, I am a bit of a beginner at this so learning as I go along.

    Charmaine – I think in a smaller city it would be more possible…

    That said my reviews of coffee places are built on hundreds of coffees and it is not to say they haven't occassionally been terrible. It just evens out. So it is difficult.

  4. Lost in the Larder

    I am in no position to be going back to restaurants which have let me down when spending my hard earned. That feeling of being underwhelmed by a place you had such enthusiasm for and having to pay your own money for is not going to encourage you to go back to see if, maybe, it was just an off day. However, I have read blog reviews from people, who must be honest and not mind offending people, who have been invited for dinner and given not so favourable reviews. This is great, but like you, I do feel that when spending your own money, when no one knows whether you are a writer or blogger, you see the service and food from a more similar perspective to that of the experience readers will have.

  5. Lizzie

    I think it's perfectly fair to blog a place you've only been to once, whether it's bad or good. After all, the person reading it, will probably do the same. If the restaurant doesn't impress you the first time I don't see a reason to feel obliged to visit again.

  6. Tom

    Lost in the Larder – a place which I remember being so excited about was Giaconda Dining Rooms (pre blogging days). I went and it was a pile of averageness. If I had been blogging back then I would have definitely written at length about its boring and average it was. However, I know through reading other reviews that I am probably "wrong" or at least the exception to the rule.

    That said, I would never spend my own money there again. Like you say, after that feeling of hope which has been smashed, I couldn't. I just think, in future, when I rave or rubbish a place I will try (and it can be hard if a place is so bad) to find a contrasting review.

    Lizzie – I agree. However, today I had one of those moments of realisation is that I can sit kerplunking away on a keyboard and that is someone's heart and soul they have poured into a meal (though it might be crap). In essence I just realised I was am far too opinionated… :)

  7. The Grubworm

    It's a difficult one, particularly if you go to somewhere where the people obviously care, but just as obviously turn out bad food. Same goes for a place you have heard good things about, when it turns out to be very average, you almost want to give it the benefit of doubt.

    But, and it is a bug but, that would be dishonest. I think the only hard and fast rule in blogging things is to be honest and transparent. If you are being taken out, or it is one of the blogger events, say so. That way people can make their mind up. Plus, i figure that if people are reading your blog, then they are almost certainly reading others, the critics and certainly somewhere like London eating to get a picture of where to go.

    I like your plan to link to other reviews where possible (so long as they didn't all go at the same time). That can only help people get a better picture, and also provide context to your writing.

  8. Helen

    In my last job I had to "mystery shop" a beauty treatment in the office gym. All very well and good but I was spotted a mile off by the "complimentary" written across the booking. A truer test would for me to have paid and then have been refunded. Maybe the restaurant PRs would try working it that way?

    Is Marina O’Loughlin still managing to stay anonymous?

  9. Tom

    Grubworm – I don't know any bloggers nowadays who don't "disclose" (if that is the correct word) free trips etc when they write their reviews. It seems to me there is a fair bit of self-checking and honour in the London blogging community.

    In some ways I think PR agencies also have a responsibility. If they treat a bunch of bloggers to a night (which will inevitably be amazing) and it raises expectations, they need to be sensible enough to ensure that the day to day operation of the restaurant matches up to that. That is where I think there can be a disconnect.

    On people all going at the same time (like us guys to Turkish last night), I think then the group automatically starts thinking communally and you come out with one aggregated review (but different pictures) so that definitely wouldn't work.

    Helen – I have to admit I have never read the metro so didn't know that she was (as I now realise) famously anonymous. But bravo to her. My quick google search picked up a bunch of men and 90 year old women as relevant images so I guess so!

  10. Dave

    I am less likely to rely on a review where people have had freebies, as they may feel obliged to compliment the restaurant, or they want more of the same from others and therefore will not put a foot wrong.
    But why shouldn't we say a particular meal was bad. We are paying money for this afterall, and the restaurants are taking our money. It should be perfect every time. I know every chef has an off day, but would they offer a refund because of this. The answer to that is a very short no.
    But as long as we tell the truth and are not spiteful just because we were in a bad mood then it’s ok. Plain honest reporting is what we should do.

  11. Tom

    Dave – I suppose that is the core of why I started blogging as I would read reviews of big name critics (not normally bloggers until I started blogging myself) and find I had a completely different meal than them.

    I actually emailed Jay Rayner after one meal which was so bad I didn't believe the kitchen could EVER do a good meal. He was good and replied and said he can only review what he had on the day. However, that wasn't quite an answer for me as a once off visit by a very unanonymous person is not a good enough precedent for me.

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