Friday, December 7, 2007

Reviewing The Ratings

I admit it. I love the two main beer ratings websites BeerAdvocate.com and RateBeer.com. Both are fun, informative and offer a terrific forum for learning about and discussing the mutual favorite subject of beloved beers -- as well as the not-so-beloved beers. These are sites that definitely do not subscribe to the idea that "there's no such thing as a bad beer." Truth of the matter is that beer, as with any artisanal product, can be slaughtered. Miserably. Or rise to joyous heights. Whichever direction a brewer goes, RateBeer and BeerAdvocate members are there to dutifully report their findings.

Each site has its own distinct personality. They're almost like two bars just around the corner from each other. Some patrons go to one, the other, or both as their mood takes them, dropping by to see who else is at the bar. Other patrons are quick to whip up the rivalry on a moment's notice. Some shout out as they enter the establishment much as Norm would do as he walked into Cheers, and others prefer to sit off to the side at a small table in the corner and keep to themselves as they contemplate their afternoon's beer.

Over the years, I've become accustom to reading the things that people have to say about our beer. I've learned to just let it flow through. To accept the comments, both positive and negative.

I've always felt that it's our job to decide what it is that we do, and it's the job of consumers (hate to use such a generic term there, but I'm at a loss for a different, more meaningful all-encompassing term) to decide if they like it. What I mean by this is that we don't try to project what a consumer *might* think they want, and then try to do that. It seems that most companies spend a LOT of time doing that with all their market research and such. They try to figure out what people think they want, and then fulfill that "need."

We don't. We do what we do.

In other words, we focus on doing what we do with an eye towards doing it as amazing as we possibly can. As a result, we recognize and accept that the "what we do" isn't going to meet everyone's tastes. And that's quite OK.

That being said, I'm constantly surprised by the people who get angry a bit when they find that they don't like what we do. You know, the "what's up with your menu...can't you have any normal food?" group. I suppose, for them, our answer is 'no.' We often have our housemade kimchee on the menu. Kimchee is something that tens of millions of people eat every day. "Normal," like so many other things, is relative. For me, most people's "normal" equals booooring. And why would we want to do something that we think is boring?

But I, like usual, digress.

If you'd like to check out the myriad of perspectives out there on the Stone Brewing World Bistro & Gardens, there's a few main places you'll find them:

On BeerAdvocate.com you can find the reviews here.

One RateBeer.com where the reviews are split somewhat confusingly into two different locations for our one location, they can be found here and here. (I like the latter grouping of reviews as the RateBeerians that review us there like us better, but the name of our street is not spelled quite right in that one.)

On Yelp.com, they take us to an even more schizophrenic level by splitting us into three pieces, the beer/food oriented listings here and here, and the (at the time of this writing) one lone review of the Stone Company Store here. (One thing they all have in common, along with most online mapping systems and GPS systems, is that the header in each one suggests that we are located somewhere other than where we actually are.)

The truly amazing ability of the rating sites are that they can reveal the collective consciousness in a way that was previously unavailable. The communication, enthusiasm, and authenticity is amazing. When it comes to beer.

When it comes to a dining experience, the rating systems seem to still be a work in progress. The parameters of rating such a complex thing have not quite seemed to gel, and there are still multiple methods to the madness that haven't perfected the triangulation yet. But hell, a beer you can sit and contemplate and write about a lot easier than you can a dining experience. Beer has just shy of 100 identifiable flavor parameters. Add in colors, smells and packaging to the equation, and an experienced beer aficionado can still get their arms around it.

A restaurant however has countless and untold parameters that come into play. There's no surprise here of course, it simply means that it's even more difficult to gel into universally bite sized parameters.

But it shouldn't stop the trying of course!

To all that have taken the time to post a review on what we do and give us insight --- whether we love it or hate it, whether we think you're brilliantly insightful or a grouchy hack --- all the reviews are appreciated!

Especially the good ones.

3 comments:

Jeremy said...

Looking at the reviews on Beer Advocate (where I am an active member), it seems you guys are doing pretty damn well. I haven't been to your restaurant (yet!) so I can't comment about the place myself.

You talk a lot about how you do your own thing with the food and it seems pretty well received in general, although it is your lowest individual score. If you like what you're doing, keep on doing it. Still though, your rating is for food is over 4, so it seems that people are digging the food.

Your second lowest rating is in service. I know you discussed this earlier in the post about the complaint email you got and the BA comments look somewhat similar to those. It seems like people feel that they wait too long for a seat and sometimes that the wait staff aren't as aggressively helpful as they'd like. Again, the rating for service is still over 4, so you're obviously doing a pretty good job.

Specifically regarding the service reviews, do you feel that these are legitimate complaints and if so, are you planning on trying to tackle them?

Greg @ Stone said...

Jeremy,

Thanks for the comments. The answer is yes, we are very interested in making sure that both the food and the service are amazing.

If someone doesn't like the Stone Ruination IPA Garlic Cheddar Soup (aka "The Pungent One"), that's OK. If it comes out incorrectly, that is NOT OK.

Regarding service, that's an area where I don't think any restaurant can ever get "too good." A rating reflecting "pretty good" performance is nowhere good enough for us...or our fans!

There's plenty of room for our personality to shine through, while doing an amazing job at connecting with everyone that comes through the door.

Waiting for a seat will happen. That can be inevitable at a busy restaurant. However, we should be able to give clear direction on the expected wait time range, where to get a beer while waiting, when the tour times are if they want to do that, etc.

Just a few weeks ago we brought on a new position...specifically a Front of the Front of the House Manager (that's not a typo). We recognized that there was an need for us to be more proactive with our guests, their experience, and our overall being "aggressively helpful." Those words describe exactly how I think we should be!

Matt Ney said...

I like rating beers on beeradvocate and enjoy the feedback you give on forums about Stone related things. I am very impressed by the standard and simple attention to detail your company exudes. I find the attitude towards reactions consumers may have about your products refreshing and definitely slightly abnormal in this day and age. I am a homebrewer and unintentionally achieved the level of oakiness Oaked Bastard contains in my Imperial Brown ale. It was the only beer that could be paired with my brother's spicy ginger habanero salad. Kudos to the success and consistently adventurous, high quality beers!