08 Dec2014

Zubuchon has been on Trip Advisor for three years. During our first year, we consistently ranked in the Top 10 restaurants in Cebu and received a Trip Advisor Award for that. In our second year we slipped to the teens, and in our third year we are in the high-20’s. The rating system of Trip Advisor is weighted according to number of reviews, presumably the credibility of their reviewers somehow (number of reviews they did, geographic breadth, etc.), frequency of reviews, weighted ratings, etc. However, there seems to be some bias towards newer listings as 5 good ratings in a row can catapult you to the top, while older “properties” wallow in the sea of averages.

For the most part, Trip Advisor has been helpful, in that it brings critical data like our location, contact numbers etc. to people searching for us on the web for the first time. But I do have to agree that one must sometimes take some of what is posted on Trip Advisor with a grain of salt. I decided to write this post after reading this amusing Daily Mail article on Trip Advisor readers giving such well-known sites as the Eiffel Tower, Statue of Liberty, Great Wall of China, Grand Canyon and Taj Mahal a one-star rating. It just highlights the fact that Trip Advisor is a democracy, and you can say anything (within some parameters) you like and give whatever rating you please, whether it really does seem to reflect the truth, reality, the context, etc. Your rating is your opinion, period. Thus one has to pick and choose which opinions to believe.

There is no shortage of criticism of the system, however — see here or here. A guide to decoding Trip Advisor reviews, here. There are many complaints about the system as well. Some folks can intentionally put bad reviews to bring someone’s (say a competitor’s) ratings down. There is no need to prove you actually ate or stayed at the restaurant or hotel. There is no differentiation between a fine dining establishment and a fast-food one or a five-star hotel or motel. And there is sufficient evidence that the system can be scammed. Nevertheless, it’s not something you can opt out of, so you must play the game with some aplomb.

I find that when I use Trip Advisor for hotels and restaurants, I read well into the individual reviews, and see how the writer crafts his opinion, within what context and against other properties of like kind. That helps me decide if he is to be trusted more or less. And I only use this as one of the criteria in my search for something. Why do I say this? Just consider the following, in Zubuchon’s case…

1. We currently rate 4 stars and have done so for most of the past 3 years (starting off at 4.5 for several months in year 1). That puts us ON PAR with Sukiyabayashi Jiro Roppongi Hills (son of original Sukiyabashi Jiro Ginza that is rated 4.5 stars), or Les Amis, Singapore, 4-star Trip Advisor rating ranked 86th best restaurant in the world by this list, or the same as Manresa (62nd best restaurant in the world), or St. John, London (55th best in the world) or Coi, San Francisco (49th best in the world) — a list that is drawn up by food professionals with serious taste buds and intense credentials (they actually COOK for a living). But more far-fetched but laughably amusing, that puts us just half a star behind Per Se (which I adore, at 4.5 stars and ranked 30th in the world), Le Bernardin (ranked 21st) and Noma, Copenhagen (ranked 1st in the world). How absurd is that? Yet you will find Jollibee and other fast food chains also in the 3.5-4.0 category for Cebu. Read into that what you will. I definitely DO NOT CONSIDER OUR HUMBLE CHAIN TO BE IN ANYWHERE NEAR THE STRATOSPHERE THAT THOSE PLACES OPERATE IN.

2. It is a known fact that more often that not, people with a gripe or complaint are more likely to write a bad review than folks who had a great meal will write a congratulatory review. The statistics vary, but it might be safe to say the ratio is 5:1. And over the past 3 years, if you assume we served say just 700 customers a day (we are around 900-1,000 for the past year), then that would be a total of 766,500 meals served and 269 reviews on Trip Advisor to this day, or just the opinion of .00035 of our clients! So visiting guests who used Trip advisor are basing their decision on a teeny tiny fraction of customers. I’d like to think the vast majority of new clients of ours come from positive word of mouth and return visits.

3. I used to respond to many reviews personally, but have sort of given up for the past few months, and really should start doing it again. We do appreciate ALL REVIEWS, good and bad, and the bad ones often spur us to action, but I must say I do occasionally get turned off by some outrageous reviews… like the one that insisted our pigs weren’t fresh because the meat wasn’t milky white pork and went on to “expertly” divine that we must not have bled the pigs hence the dark meat — of course I pointed out to Trip Advisor that bleeding and the dark meat were not a factual link (blood is in veins, not meat (that’s water/liquid), and that darker meat was indicative of more muscle, more free movement) OR the one that said we weren’t local (huh? because local or traditional means a cup of MSG?) — they didn’t have MSG when Pigafetta landed and recorded his meal of roast pork in 1521… Nor did they have soy sauce! OR the one that clearly identifies another competitor and why we should eat there instead, yup, I get that one clearly OR the one that found the food to be horrific and not to their taste, yet they said nothing while on the premises, paid their bill, and took their extra food anyway…

In the end it is indeed a double-edged sword. But thankfully, one we have remained on the good side of for the past three years. Honestly, I think a 4-star rating is pretty darned good considering all of the above. If you have been to our restaurants and want to write a review, head on over to Trip Advisor, we appreciate your time and thoughts, both good and not so good. Thank you. :)



  1. Onlysecond says:

    To be honest, I don’t put much stock in the official TA reviews when doing research. I find that a lot of the places are rated by an older, primarily white (or at least Western) audience. I maybe use the reviews as jump-off points, but where I really get the good info is the TA forum. It’s not perfect, but it’s more interactive and provides info that’s more credible or easier to validate because of the presence of other users who are quick to jump in with their own experiences. It’s a bit tedious to comb through the threads, but interesting as well. Lota of good info if you’re willing to read past the occasional flame war and trollage.

    Dec 8, 2014 | 4:10 pm


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  3. tina vitas says:

    MM, nice post! I just wanted to comment that in this age of social media, everyone is an expert, everyone is critical and everyone feels so free to put other people down, without batting an eyelash. They are hiding behind an online post. Something most would never dare verbalize in the flesh. I have managed to stay away from Instagram and Twitter. Anyway, thank you for enlightening us about the way they measure rankings on Trip Advisor. :)

    Dec 8, 2014 | 4:33 pm

  4. Rona Y says:

    Just a clarification, Sukiyabashi Jiro Roppongi Hills is NOT the inspiration for Jiro Dreams of Sushi, but the original in Ginza is. The Roppongi Hills “branch” is operated by Jiro’s son, and at least in Japan, it’s considered greatly inferior to the original (which is considered over-rated by many).

    I do agree that one should look at online reviews (on TripAdvisor, but also other websites) with a critical eye. I always read a sampling of the worst and middling reviews before reading some of the better ones. I also look at how business owners/employees respond to reviews, as there are always different sides to the same story.

    Dec 8, 2014 | 8:35 pm

  5. Marketman says:

    Rona Y, thanks for that correction, my error. But it’s interesting that the original in the Ginza is rated 4.5 stars, just half a star more than the son’s restaurant in Roppongi hills… so there’s not much differentiation in Trip Advisor for those two restaurants.

    Dec 8, 2014 | 8:54 pm

  6. EJ says:

    I agree with you, MM. Trip Advisor’s top ten Amsterdam restaurants list includes cafes, snack bars and even a fish shop, of which I know only two. There’s one Michelin-starred resto in the top ten but it sticks out like a sore thumb.

    Dec 8, 2014 | 9:48 pm

  7. Ana says:

    I always check out tripadvisor for hotel reviews. but just because there are bad reviews doesn’t mean i’ll get turned off. you do need to balance it out as it’s impossible to please everyone. as with the restaurant reviews, i would rather check out the local food bloggers or time out than TA. i definitely don’t choose a restaurant just because they have the Trip Advisor sticker on the door.

    Dec 9, 2014 | 12:42 am

  8. jay p says:

    i’m being selfish, but im glad your getting not so great reviews.

    this only means there is a better chance for me to get a table!

    here’s an interesting read on lousy customers (some of which give lousy reviews as well).

    i’m sure you will find it entertaining. a better takeaway (which im sure you know by now) is that you can’t please everyone so you just brush it off and laugh.


    Dec 9, 2014 | 10:28 am

  9. ami says:

    Maybe it’s the pinoy’s penchant for trying out restaurants that are new hence why Zubuchon has slipped down the ratings thru the years. Pinoys would more likely write a review, tweet about or instagram a new restaurant so that they can tell others how uso they are.

    Dec 9, 2014 | 11:10 am

  10. Betchay says:

    For hotel reviews I check on tripadvisor but I do not believe every review since I find some of the reviewers are just too demanding. I use my gut feel and I am easy to please :)
    Maintaining your present 4 star rating is very good!

    Dec 9, 2014 | 1:56 pm

  11. Kimmie says:

    Great article. I also peruse the trip advisor website when booking hotel rooms. I always click on the room pictures just to see what the rooms really look like as opposed to the polished photos posted on the hotel’s website. It gives me a better idea if I will like it or not. But you’re right, trip advisor should just be a starting point when researching a place, ultimately the experience of one is just that. But on another note, good job for Zubu!!!!

    Dec 10, 2014 | 12:31 am

  12. James says:

    I haven’t tried Zubuchon yet but would def do so when I get over to Cebu. A few observations:

    When a restaurant is new people are excited to try it. It’s the talk of the town and ratings are high. But after a couple of years you’re no longer the exicting cool new kid on the block, a lot of people have already went there for a special occasion but don’t go back. It happens in my local area.

    A restaurant that has been going a couple of years must keep its standards high. Unless you have a great manager on the ground little things can start slipping like attention to detail, customer service, safe storage of produce etc.. Kitchen and front-of-house staff must always be on their toes and not get lazy.

    Your comment about people not complaining… A lot of people don’t want to rock the boat and cause what potentially may be a confrontation. It’s a lot easier to go home, tell their friends about their negative experience and write a review on Tripadvisor.

    I think holistically Tripadvisor views give a pretty good indication of quality but personal preference will always play a part – and some people just like to whinge.

    Dec 14, 2014 | 10:15 am

  13. Rona Y says:

    The problem with TripAdvisor is that most of the ratings come from overseas visitors, many of whom have a very limited frame of reference re: Japanese food. Most are impressed by names rather than the actual product.

    That being said, on Tabelog (the Japanese version of Yelp), the Ginza branch rates a 4.09 while the Roppongi branch rates 3.52, barely half a point difference. But if you look at rankings of Tokyo sushi restaurants, the Ginza branch is 21st and Roppongi is 216th–that’s a much bigger difference (there are about 30 restaurants with a 3.52 rating, though, and Jiro Roppongi is 9th of those–not sure why it’s placed there).

    I’ve learned to discount star ratings, and just read reviews. Sometimes restaurants will get 1 star, but it will be because of something stupid, like the guest felt the server wasn’t subservient enough.

    Just as with reviewing food, one must review reviews with a critical eye (which was your point, I know!)

    Dec 15, 2014 | 8:17 am


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