New ideas for the restaurant reviews site…

cappucinoLike I was saying to Joe earlier, every time I speak to people about this restaurant website they seem to want to get involved or they have some excellent idea to add to the concept.

So the basic premise is a web 2.0 (and by web 2.0 I mean user generated content etc) restaurant reviews website where the reviewers are broken up into various bands according to their karma and the number of reviews they’ve written. New reviewers have their first 5 reviews moderated. Once they’ve got past their “New Reviewer” status they become “Reviewers” who can invite additional people to join the site but they only get 1 invite per review they write.

All the reviews are rated in digg’esqe manner and reviewers gain or lose karma (trust) accordingly.

Reviewers who achieve certain levels of Karma and write a minimum number of reviews become “Food Gurus” who have additional functionally available to them.

Food Gurus are the people who

  • Moderate the “New Reviewers” reviews for quality etc
  • Are also responsible for updating the non-review based restaurant data (addresses etc)
  • Respond to reviews that have been tagged as “inappropriate” or “suspicious” and potentially banning dodgy reviewers etc.

The idea is that the trust based invite system will hopefully keep the site as honest as possible.

Also, I imagine there might be a point in getting the actually restaurants to have a representative user on the site who can respond to praise and criticism and alert Food Guru’s of any errata or dodgyness on their restaurant’s profile.

Since reviewers have karma it makes sense to have an algorithm that determines the restaurant’s average rating based on various factors including karma etc. I like the idea of the age old 5 star rating but how we get to that number can be quite interesting. Firstly we’d obviously bias the result in the direction of the reviewers with higher karma. We can also positively bias the most recent reviews so that the result is a recent reflection, potentially setting a cut off date so that really old reviews are ignored outright.

One of the more interesting debates is the question of what is a “review”. In my original idea I kept is uber simple: 160 characters and a star rating. Is this too little? What is too much? Keeping thing simple makes sure that the reviews are actually readable; allowing a site user to actually read a number of reviews in a short amount of time. But since we’re building the system why not take the opportunity to build something that can accommodate all kinds of data, right down to how clean the bathrooms were. I think the answer lies somewhere in the middle, with the minimum 200 character review and a star rating as the base of the review but the site allows you to fluff up the data as much as you like.

Because no system would be complete without an acronym, I hereby introduce URT or Uniform Restaurant Tag, a unique tag for every restaurant in the entire world. We’ll have to think this one through carefully so that we don’t get caught by our own short sightedness when the site begins to take over the planet but you get the idea. This tag will be visible on each restaurant page so that it’s easy to copy and paste. The tags will be used to tag blog entries, flickr sets, technorati etc. This data can then be pulled in or linked from the restaurant profiles.

Joe’s been down the road before and one of his ideas was to come up with a XML restaurant review markup language (RRML). The basic idea here (I think) is the ability move the data around and store it easily. I’m not convinced of the storage thing yet but I definitely think that coming up with a markup language will ultimately aid the sites expansion as various 3rd parties use the data. (and link back to it)

nbm suggested setting up trackback functionality so that we know who’s linking to what and potentially push people to relevant blogs.

One of the most cringeworthy but potentially clever ideas is to get pro reviewers from traditional media (newspapers, magazines etc) to take part. This could help grow the site really quickly if the site gets adequate exposure.

We can also build in the ability to have Top 5 lists. Something like Top 5 Burgers in the CBD or Top 5 Sushi restaurants in Cape Town.

Lastly, but not leastly; Eatups: Meetups where you eat. We could potentially have a lot of fun organising big dinners at various restaurants with like-minded food people and have an en-masse review afterwards. Discounts?

I’m sure there are one or two ideas that I’ve forgotten to put down but I feel better now that most of it is committed to blog. (I must automate my backups)

Please feel free to give me ideas or criticism. Like I said the time before, I’d rather this gets shot down in flames as a bad idea before I stupidly spend any real time on it.




20 thoughts on “New ideas for the restaurant reviews site…

  1. Oh, and we don’t have a name yet… Free beer/biltong/sushi/what-do-girls-like? to the person who comes up with a cool name that we use. (think .com)

  2. I really like the idea, and also your tasteful use of photographs. let me prepare 5 x 160 word reviews and pass them on. My new slant is child friendly….haha…..this will be a very acute angle as it is becoming clear that aside from Spur ‘child friendly restaurant’ is an oxymoron. Anyways, my other soap box rant is ‘conscientious guides’ i.e not just food/ambience etc reviews but how are the staff treated (esp the ones you don’t see) and how valued are the individual customers? Watch this space. Oh yes – congrats on becoming a Frog, best place in the pond i say

  3. Charl: Shot for the pointer…

    Naulene: I agree, kid friendly is an interesting angle to look at these things from. I’m thinking a tagging system might work well. Tags like “Under R40 mains” or “Child Friendly” would help when searching etc.

    The one thing I’ve been noticing is that a lot of the review websites have a very pretentious attitude about themselves and tend to review and highlight very upmarket places. While there is obviously nothing wrong with doing that, it does lend itself to being inaccessible to the masses. I’d like *insert site name here* to be “for the people, by the people” and so if there’s a really good R8 boerewors roll in the Bo-Kaap (which there is, opposite Rose Cafe) then hey, it should get its day in the limelight.

  4. Hey there Jonathan and Joe,

    This RRML of your’s is it based on microformats standards? We’re busy working on a site which will index microformats like hReview, hCard and hCalendar. We would like to integrate your RRML formats too. I think this is an awesome idea of yours.

  5. 😛 damn! Charl is the other part of the “we”. Sat so long on this page I did not even saw he already commented! hReview would be GREAT! Less work for us then. 😉

  6. Wow this is really cool.
    Stefan and myself setup a review site because we really felt that there wasn’t an ordinary, man on the street restaurant review site. EatOut doesn’t give you an honest opinion, and the days of the expert having supposed superior knowledge (as found in newspapers) are over..
    Check out the site here. We haven’t updated in a while since we haven’t gotten around to the User Generated Content part yet, and now that you’re doing your thing we probably won’t 🙂
    I’ll be watching the space 🙂 and if you need Alpha testers, you know where to find me.

  7. I would favour a system where the reviewer has to rate say 5 to 7 fields e.g.
    Food Quality
    Wine list
    Value for Money

    You get the idea, perhaps on a star system. each field could have a little icon with the rating below it, running across the top with the reviewers personal input below that restricted to x number of words. That way you get a quick input right upfront, the reviewer can get across his opnion on many fields and save the written content for his impressions good or bad on aspects which struck him/her as important.
    Dunno just my 5c worth.

  8. Jon my man, this is very good idea. You have obviously put some great thought into this. I think you should kick along with it as there definitely is the need for something like this.
    The marketing potential for cross border expansion is great too. if you go on holiday to hong kong, which of your fellow reviewers have been there and where did they eat? Do any of them actually live there etc etc.

    I would say you have something great here that if executed correctly, will add great value to the average restauranteer.

    Just a thought though, i dont like the idea of Journos getting involved. The idea would be that they would eventually join up anyway but by that time be in the lower hierachy of users and therefore their (possibly biased / pretentious / condescending) opinion will not count for much…

    I will carry on thinking about this and checking back in, awesome idea!

  9. Oi oi oi Skye,

    Not all of us are “possibly biased / pretentious / condescending”. Unless of course said journos are of the variety that orginally tried to make it in the restaurant business and failed miserably. Left with nothing to do but criticise others in the media.
    I’d be inclined to rather “politely” ask ANYONE biased, pretentious or condescending not to contribute further, regardless of whether they’re a journo, secretary or neurosurgeon.

    Besides, most of the obnoxious foodie journos I know are so big up themeselves they wouldn’t be able to keep the condescension short enough to be accepted.

  10. Oi oi oi Skye,

    Not all of us are “possibly biased / pretentious / condescending”. Unless of course said journos are of the variety that orginally tried to make it in the restaurant business and failed miserably. Left with nothing to do but criticise others in the media.
    I’d be inclined to rather “politely” ask ANYONE biased, pretentious or condescending not to contribute further, regardless of whether they’re a journo, secretary or neurosurgeon.

    Besides, most of the obnoxious foodie journos I know are so big up themselves they wouldn’t be able to keep the condescension short enough to be accepted.

  11. Hmm, clearly technology is not my friend. Didn’t mean to post twice. Just trying to fix the extra “e” in “themselves”. sorry.

  12. I thought like Tresblue: fewer than 10 categories to grade, from 1 to 5 – average per category, overall average. Maybe you can build some algo that includes the ‘weight’ of a reviewer (a guru’s review weighs more than the newbie’s one); also, older reviews weigh less than new ones (just a few more factors and you’re matching Google’s algo :-)).

    Of course you have to mashup a Google map for its location and directions;
    Restaurants can pay to have their contactdetails (emailURL?) included, so people can contact them (directly) – if the reviews are not too bad…
    Tagging seems like a good idea to facilitate searches – maybe a colorcode for price-range?

    In general, good idea (although I think I have seen something similar before – San Francisco I vaguely recall, so do some research as well).


    Too bad there is no option to be informed via email about commentsupdates of this post.

  13. Hmm, clearly Jon is not my friend – just moderates my comments out – thought they were constructive…. Whatever.

  14. (ok, firstly, Jerome and Jasper, why do you have the same email address? Is one a nom de plume?)

    Woah tiger, easy on the feelings of exclusion… If you look at the top of your browser you will see that the domain you are currently on is “” which happens to be my site where I do whatever I want.

    I read you initial comment and decided not to publish it until I was able to reply and since I’ve been changing jobs, planning a holiday and witnessing car crashes and chasing drunk drivers I kinda feel I have every right to do as I please.

    Anyways, I agree, keeping it simple is key, Google Maps would be great but I dont really think that Google maps is “there” yet with regards to roads in South Africa.

    The one thing I really disagree with you on is the idea of “paid for listings” or any variation thereof. I feel that the minute we let a restaurant pay us money for anything we run the risk of losing our credibility as a neutral information source.

    We do feel that giving restaurants access to the site as “Restaurant Representatives” who can answer questions or respond to criticism etc is a good idea.

  15. Thanks for explanation – easy on your “rights” – I didn’t intend to become the first poster ever to tell a blog-owner what to do on his blog… But as my postings were in moderation-mode and gone the next day, while they were meant to be helpful, I think I have the ‘right’ to wonder where they went 🙂

    About Google Maps – don’t know – I can find streets in the boondocks with it, but might not be the case for the whole country yet.
    Alternatives: or Other than that, GPS coordinates might be helpful.

    About advertising: always tricky indeed. Clearly stating they are sponsored links in not unusual though: see

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