As much as I've always believed and defended my position that food quality is way, way more important than ambience, service, plate decoration, the art on the wall, or whatever else some people judge restaurants on, I find myself sometimes being pulled subconsciously towards giving some restaurant with worse food better reviews that it deserves simply for the food alone, and vice versa. "I just like it better for some reason!" I'll think to myself, and then I'll have to consciously throw that thought away to try and be fair.
Then I wonder if that's the atmosphere (wall hangings, service, you get the picture) creeping in and trying to influence me under the radar without getting judged by my snobby, food-obsessed, conscious mind!
Because consciously, I will go (and have gone) back to restaurants that are gaudy and ugly with uncomfortable stools and loud patrons and just plain mean waitresses who make fun of my clothes with other waitresses behind my back, if the food is fantastic. I wouldn't want to admit doing it the other way around... going back to a place with so-so food just because there's intricate art on all the walls or the waitress and I squealed together about some shared experience or the seats were all lush, plush love seats.
But then how to explain my urge to return to somewhere like the Dushanbe Teahouse, which has consistently proved its food to be so-so at best and awful at worst? Is it just because I like the pillowy corner booths and the rush of the creek alongside the tables outdoors and the fact that 40 Tajik artists painstakingly handcrafted it in Tajikistan and as a result it looks like this? How so shallow and easily fooled, foodie brain? No matter how many times I look at my review and think 'No! This place sucks, remember?' there's a creeping desire in me that hisses, evilly, 'It can't be that bad... it's so beautiful and everyone in Boulder loves it. Look at its menu. Everything is so ethnic! You love the Teahouse. You love it. There is something wrong with you for giving it a negative review. Go on. Give it just one more try....'
Or how to explain my returning 3 times to Marie's, a mediocre greasy spoon (and what good is a greasy spoon that's mediocre??) whose waitresses gave me the sass that I so dearly missed from Chicago? Did I just think, 'ooh, that's right, Marie's waitresses, bathe me in your sweet disdain! I love it when you imply that I'm stupid! Serve me whatever crappy food you wish!' and promptly forget that the food isn't worth it?
These examples are easy enough to deconstruct, but there are little niggling feelings that tug at me when I'm trying to sort out how many stars a restaurant deserves that I can't as easily desconstruct. I sit down at a restaurant some place and just immediately for no reason think, 'This place is going to blow, I can tell!' and even if it turns out not to, I just don't want to give it a good rating. There's something trying to stop me!
I try my hardest to ignore this feeling and be fair to the poor restaurant, and I think that I usually succeed. It's just obnoxious that I can't put my finger on what it is that's trying to influence me. Something subtle about the smell? That it reminds me on some level of someplace I had an anxiety attack in when I was in high school? Did I just happen to feel sick that day? Was I mad at my boyfriend?
It makes me question the validity of all the reviews I read, not just my own. My reviews roughly follow a bell curve on the scale of 1-5 stars, which I certainly don't do on purpose. That's just how I feel about most places - most places are average. More are a little bit to one side or another. And only a few are exceptional, whether exceptionally good or exceptionally puke-inducing.
I am the only Yelp reviewer I've come across, though, whose reviews fall like that. Most everyone else has tons of 5 and 4 star reviews and they fall off as the stars get lower. Is this just because I tend sort of towards melancholy and judgment, and the rest of these people are happy-go-lucky and tends towards enjoyment and fun? Or is it because I see a three star review as a place worth going back to and they see it as a horrible, unforgivable smite upon some hardworking small business? Or is it, perhaps, because they take into account the decoration, the service, the ambience, and notice all these small pleasures I'd never think to find because I'm too busy staring with a critical eye at my plate?