This has been a pet peeve of mine for a long time.
And it’s about time I’ve shared my painful lessons with you!
Just to make things clear from the beginning: I have nothing against Tripadvisor and many times found interesting places to see thanks to the platform. But when it comes to restaurant recommendations, you should really avoid looking at it.
Just like most folks, when I’m travelling somewhere I want to know what the best restaurants are. For me, the food and culinary experiences are normally the highlight of a trip and a memorable experience.
Unfortunately, I had to learn the hard way that Tripadviros reviews are not to be trusted.
Let me tell you why and spare you the same experience.
1. They Have a Location Bias
Restaurant recommendations exist for a reason.
For someone who doesn’t know the location, they’re supposed to provide local knowledge in what’s the best culinary experience. Unfortunately, that’s not the case.
If you think of any destination, let’s say Malaga for example.
Most people will be spending the majority of their time in predictable locations – in the city centre or by the beach. The hundreds of thousands of holidaymakers coming to the city every month mean one thing – each one has an opinion about the place where they eat.
And where do they eat?
In the places they find closest to the tourist attractions they visit or the hotel where they stay in.
That is one reason why I believe that Tripadisor has a massive location bias that favours restaurants with good touristy locations with heavy traffic, where even the shitty reviews get lost because of the pure volume of opinions submitted (check on the algorithm notes later on).
That’s one of the reasons Chiringuitos still survive and thrive, thanks to their location at the beach, even though the majority have horrible quality overpriced food.
2. They are Mostly Written by Tourists
I’ve lived in Cyprus for 6.5 years and now turning to my 3rd year on Costa del Sol. Have I ever posted a review on Tripadvisor? Not ONCE.
Why? Because I know people who search for recommendations there are not interested in local’s advice.
People who live locally don’t spend their time posting reviews of their regular places. They don’t want them to be swamped by tourists.
If I ever share my opinion, it’s usually here on the blog or via my google profile on their maps.
3. They are not Made by Verified Customers
Want to destroy a competing restaurant?
Just buy a bunch of those packages that offer ‘genuine TripAdvisor reviews’ and target the competitors within your location.
There is no way Tripadvisor can verify whether those people who are expressing their opinions have actually dined in the place, or are just some hillbillies or bot accounts created with the sole purpose of boosting or destroying one’s business.
In any other website that collects brand reviews, if you want to submit a review, you need to verify that you were actually the customer of the business before you venture in to destroy their reputation online. Tripadvisor doesn’t bother with such a minor detail.
They are also heavily biased toward negativity – people are more likely to take their time to write a review if they have something to complain about, rather than something to applaud. Many will threaten restaurant staff with bad reviews if they don’t get their way.
4. They Can be Faked and Bought
For only 400 euros, you can buy yourself 50 glowing reviews of your restaurant or hotel.
Hard to believe? Well, that’s the reality.
Just one case of many that was uncovered on Costa del Sol,
5. Foodies Don’t Hang out on Tripadvisor
When I lived in Cyprus, I can tell you that the only restaurants that got good reviews were those with decent burgers and fish & chips.
Because that’s what the tourists wanted.
It’s not a matter of ‘what’s a great local dish I can try’ but ‘where do they have the best English breakfast?‘.
I love and appreciate good food, and always take my time to find local recommendations on what are the best restaurants to try. But I also appreciate that people like their home comforts, and that’s very clearly reflected in the Tripadvisor reviews.
6. It’s Run by Popularity Ranking Algorithm
If you ever wondered how some restaurants make it to the top spots on Tripadvisor, the answer is their popularity algorithm.
As they explain on their website, the algorithm takes into account three things: 1) quality (rating in stars from one to five), 2) recency (more recent reviews are more valuable than older ones) and 3) quantity (number of reviews plays a big role in the overall ranking).
What this means is the fact that not the BEST restaurant makes it to the top, but the ones that dedicate more resources to marketing and actively ask customers to submit reviews or even provide incentives for doing so.
It also means that if a restaurant has resources to spend on this type of marketing activity, it will automatically push down other restaurants in the category. As I mentioned earlier, restaurants in busy touristy locations tend to have a lot more customers and there is a heavy location bias.
While it’s perfectly reasonable to rank restaurants this way, because of the other things I mentioned above it usually means you will be disappointed by the restaurants that occupy the top spots.
What Should you Do Instead?
My travel research has been refined over the last few years and before I travel anywhere, I take some time to check local places near my accommodation or hotel.
It saves you time and hassle from researching a lunch and dinner place at the very last minute.
Here is how I usually do my research – it might not be for everyone, but it always helped me to find a better quality places and more authentic experiences.
1. Check Google Maps
Surprisingly, google maps is a better source of inspiration and reviews than Tripadvisor!
I normally narrow it down to the location of where I’m staying, or places I’m visiting during the day and check what are the nearest restaurants in that area and their recommendations.
A lot of people submitting these reviews are so-called ‘local guides’ so they live in the area and have a better expertise on the topic than a passing tourist.
Looking at restaurants from a geographical view has also a lot of practical benefits. When you’re done with sightseeing, you know that the place you selected for lunch or dinner is not on the other side of the town, but just a block away!
Another benefit of checking restaurants via google maps is that you can see lots of photos from the customers, and check the menu but also via street view check the surrounding area and what the restaurant looks like from outside.
Sometimes I have skipped some places because the area looked a bit weird or not very nice. Nobody wants to sit on a terrace with a view of a run-down building block.
2. Research Local Blogs
These are much harder to find than you would think! If you do have the time, it’s worth checking personal recommendations from someone who lives in the area.
3. Check Instagram
A lot of the time, I will spot a yummy looking dish on Instagram and save the image in my folder under the city or location. When I’m visiting the location I know I can look at my saved items for inspiration on where to dine while there.
I hope you found enough practical tips here to make your next trip even more fun and most importantly, delicious!