There’s no easier way to turn a chef’s face red than to bring up the topic of online restaurant reviews. It’s not surprising – who wouldn’t balk at reading criticisms of their work online, every day?

We pulled back the curtain and spoke with five Mainers who write reviews for sites like Yelp, TripAdvisor and Google to hear why they do it and what they like about it. Most of them said they enjoy using these sites themselves to find good restaurants, so writing a review of their own makes them feel as if they are returning the favor for other diners.

And, believe it or not, they don’t always relish throwing shade at a restaurant’s food or service. As Kim Laramy of Durham said: “It’s got to be really, really, really bad for me to do a bad review.”

Last week, chefs and restaurateurs told us what they don’t like about online reviews. Here’s the flip side of that pancake:

 

 

Rodney Mondor at Little Woodfords coffee shop. Mondor is an avid food and restaurant reviewer on Yelp and writes a lot of his reviews while sipping coffee at Little Woodfords. Brianna Soukup/Staff Photographer

RODNEY MONDOR

HOMETOWN: Portland

AGE: 52

OCCUPATION: Dean of students at the University of Southern Maine

REVIEWS FOR: Yelp

He’s prolific online: Mondor, who is part of the Yelp Elite Squad, has written 212 reviews (mostly restaurants) and posted 446 photos since he joined the site four years ago. Of his 212 reviews, 134 are five stars; he’s never given a one-star review. “My friends think I’m weird,” he said. “I’m just sharing my experience with others and letting them know about some of the great places we have around.”

How he got started: A colleague invited him to a Yelp community service event on Fort Gorges, where they cleaned up the island and then held a social gathering. He still participates in the community service projects, including an annual event in which local Yelpers visit the Ronald McDonald House in Portland to do a deep cleaning of the kitchen, then cook a meal for the families staying there.

On his reviewing style: “I try to be fun and creative with them. If there’s been something that’s not right, or could have been better, I’ll write it in a constructive way.”

On negative reviews: “I don’t want to do it to shame anyone. We have a lot of local places that are trying to make it. If it was really bad, I would (complain) off book.” Once, when Mondor and some friends ordered a breakfast hash that didn’t taste quite right, his friends suggested he write about it on Yelp. Instead, Mondor brought it up on the spot with the owner, who realized the dish had not been prepared correctly. He comped their dish, and took the hash off the menu for the rest of the day. “A lot of customer service is not about the initial experience,” Mondor said, “but it’s about what you do when something goes wrong.”

But some things drive him crazy: Like restaurants that constantly run out of items (“Well, if you know it’s busy, why not make more?”) and wait staff ignoring his table because they’re afraid to tell him the kitchen is running behind. “Tell me what’s going on. ‘Can I bring you more bread, or can I bring you something that’s going to come out really quick?’ ”

Favorite bites: Tapas at Central Provisions, the quail eggs at Boda, and the peanut butter martini at the Bar of Chocolate Cafe.

Why he sticks with it: Earning the points and badges that Yelp offers has become a fun little game. Also, he says, “I like to eat. That’s why I go to the gym every day.”

 

Lisa Steele and her husband recently enjoyed their first meal at Novio’s in Bangor. She later wrote a review that described the experience as “absolutely enjoyable” and gave the restaurant five stars. Photo courtesy of Lisa Steele

LISA STEELE

HOMETOWN: Dixmont

AGE: “In my 40s.”

OCCUPATION: Author, TV host, chicken farmer

REVIEWS FOR: Google mostly; occasionally TripAdvisor and Yelp

How she got started: Steele, who has been reviewing restaurants (as well as hotels and other businesses) for about five years, started writing online critiques while traveling to promote her first book, “Fresh Eggs Daily.” “I would find myself traveling alone in strange cities, eating out a lot and staying in hotels,” she said. “It was something I could do in the airport during a layover, or sitting alone in a hotel room.”

Then she got competitive: Google hands out points for tasks such as writing extended reviews, or answering questions about restaurant menus, parking and other details. The more points, the better the rewards. They also award badges for posting photos and so on. “It was kind of like being in Girl Scouts again.” Steele is now at Level 8, which requires 15,000 points. She is in the top 1 percent of reviewers in the Bangor area. For her trouble, she has received perks such as a pair of Google socks and an invitation to an event at Google headquarters in California.

Her most viewed photo: Despite Steele’s love of beautifully plated food, her most popular photo is actually of the bathroom at the St. Louis airport, which has funky green tile. “I love taking photos, and it gives me a chance to take a picture of something other than a chicken.”

On negative reviews: Steele says she leaves mostly 5-star reviews, the equivalent of giving all the restaurants she visits a participation trophy. “I don’t think I’ve left one review that’s been flat-out bad. A restaurant has to be pretty bad to get a one star, in my opinion. I’d have to get food poisoning or something.” The rare times she’s left a negative review, “so many (other diners) marked those reviews as helpful. That was kind of eye-opening.”

Things that irk her about other reviewers: People complaining about small portions.

 

Steffy Amondi enjoys a meal at Petite Jcaqueline in Portland. Photo courtesy of Steffy Amondi

STEFFY AMONDI

HOMETOWN: Portland

AGE: 24

OCCUPATION: Works in finance

REVIEWS FOR: Mostly Yelp

How she got started: Amondi grew up in Kenya and attended college in Holland. When she moved to Portland two years ago, she wanted to familiarize herself with the dating scene and started visiting a lot of breweries and restaurants so she would know what vibe to expect at each place. “I wanted to know, is it worth going on a Friday, or is it more low-key?” Also, because she dines out a lot, she wanted details. “If I’m going to spend $50 on a meal, per person, I want to know is that portion size worth it, and Yelp is going to tell you that.”

What she learned: Otto is a great place for first dates “just because I found it was the most easy to get away from if things weren’t going too well.” The restaurant has multiple locations, too, “so you can go without being that person who’s always in the same place on a first date.” Comedy nights at Lincolns or Empire, she says, are “second-date worthy.”

Ditto breweries: They offer “a nice, no-pressure situation” for dating. “The brewery scene in Portland is just all around great, and it’s affordable.”

It worked (OK, sort of): Amondi and her now ex-boyfriend went to Otto on their first date. “We were together for almost two years, so it was perfect.”

Proudest accomplishment: Yelp named her “Queen of Novare” because she checked in at Novare Res Bier Cafe so many times.

Favorite Portland spots: Amondi enjoys Isa Bistro, Blyth & Burrows, Independent Ice and Solo Italiano, but her all-time favorite restaurant in the city is The Corner Room. “It’s reliable. You always know what you’re going to get. It’s perfect. I take anyone who visits to The Corner Room. It’s my go-to restaurant.”

 

Marc Lippa of Old Orchard Beach enjoys dining out with his wife and writing online reviews of their experiences. Photo courtesy of Marc Lippa

MARC LIPPA

HOMETOWN: Old Orchard Beach and Ocala, Florida

AGE: 66

OCCUPATION: Retired salesman

REVIEWS FOR: He has posted reviews to TripAdvisor in the past, but now uses only Yelp.

Some background: Lippa has been posting reviews for six years, but he has dined out for many more – first in his travels for work, now during car trips to and from Florida, where he and his wife spend winters. He doesn’t like restaurant chains, preferring to eat at small, independently owned places. When we spoke, he and his wife were planning to have lunch in Portland the next day at Maiz, the Colombian street food restaurant on Forest Avenue, or one of the city’s many Asian options.

His reviewing philosophy: “When I like it, I say it, and when I don’t like it, I say that as well. I try to be unbiased.”

For example: Lippa recently gave a negative review to Dizzy Birds Rotisserie in Biddeford. He thought the chicken soup was greasy, and the roast beef sandwich was served on focaccia that he felt was over seasoned. His wife liked the kale salad and the macaroni salad, but he didn’t. After posting his disappointment, the owner texted him very quickly. “He welcomed my wife back,” Lippa said, laughing. “Because he was so expeditious with getting back to me, I’ll probably go back sometime.”

On restaurants’ responses to negative Yelp reviews: “My opinion is they should be tickled pink by the exposure they’re getting. You have to take the good with the bad.”

Pet peeves: Seeing restaurant workers in open kitchens preparing food with no gloves, not washing their hands in between tasks, and sporting beards with no beard nets. He reports them to the local health department.

His favorite restaurant: Apsara in Providence, Rhode Island, which serves pan-Asian cuisine. When he lived in that city, he ate there three to four times a week. “It’s where I want to have my last meal before I die.”

Dream restaurant visit: JBJ Soul Kitchen in Red Bank, New Jersey, a self-styled “community restaurant” owned by rock star Jon Bon Jovi, where customers pay only what they can afford for their farm-to-table meal. “We like his values.”

 

Kim Laramy of Durham and her partner, Wayne Clark, enjoy a meal at Provender Kitchen and Bar in Ellsworth. Photo courtesy of Kim Laramy

KIM LARAMY

HOMETOWN: Durham

AGE: 63

OCCUPATION: Senior strategist and account director at Ethos, a Westbrook-based marketing firm

REVIEWS FOR: Mostly Yelp

Why she does it: Laramy started writing reviews eight to 10 years ago “because I found it useful to look up things, so I decided I wanted to be a part of making it useful for somebody else.” She adds that she supported herself as a waitress and bartender in college, so she understands how hard it can be to make a living that way. Reviews are “another way to show support for people who do a really good job, and I really like that part of it. It’s a virtual tip, if you will, especially if I can get the server’s name and put it on there.”

Whiskey and bacon: Laramy likes making other diners aware of restaurants that are an unexpected pleasure, such as the restaurant in a Brunswick strip mall that served fresh seafood, or the place she and her partner visited in Colorado that advertised, simply, whiskey and bacon, “and I’m like, what’s not to love?”

On negative reviews:  Laramy says that when something goes wrong, she’s not shy about speaking up while still in the restaurant. “It’s got to be really, really, really bad for me to do a bad review.”

Restaurants take notice: Laramy says she’s never recognized as a Yelper when she walks into a restaurant. But once, while sitting at a restaurant’s bar, she left a review with her phone that detailed what she had just eaten and gave the place five stars. “And, as I was leaving, the hostess was, like, ‘Hey, thanks for the shout-out.’ ”

Her favorite restaurants: Woodford Food & Beverage in Portland because “I like the vibe there. I like the food, I like the owners. It’s always consistent.” She also likes the Sinful Kitchen on Brighton Avenue. “They have the best eggs Benedict in all of Portland, I’m convinced.” And Foreside Tavern in Falmouth, she said, is consistent, “and they have fries that are worth the calories.”


Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.