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How soon is too soon?

Should we rush out to review new restaurants or apply the old standard of waiting at least a month?

Posted October 15, 2010 by Diane Seo

Since we’re in the business of reviewing restaurants, I’ll share with you one of the issues that we’re grappling with in this constantly evolving, digitalized media era.

Basically it comes down to how soon we should review new restaurants. In the past, many food reviewers felt it was important to wait a month or even longer before checking out a new eatery. The thinking has been that owners need time to get their bearings, tweak their menus and stabilize their service. Rushing to review can be haste, inaccurate and even unfair.

While overseeing the dining coverage for the TGIF section when it was part of The Honolulu Advertiser, this issue frequently came up among our small cadre of dining reviewers. At least some TGIF writers were in the mindset that waiting is best. Although I respected this sentiment at first, it became increasingly obvious to me that this rule doesn’t work anymore, and that waiting simply allows your competitors, especially in the digital realm, to beat you and make your take more irrelevant.

Mainstream media now competes with Twitter, Facebook, Yelp and an army of local bloggers eager to rush out to the newest places to offer their takes. People don’t wait anymore for an “official” review to get published in the main newspaper in town. They want to know right away whether a new restaurant is worth trying, and they’ll make up their own minds after assessing a variety of opinions from multiple sources.

Does this mean we should go to a place on its grand opening?

Yes, sometimes. Like in the case of Morimoto Waikiki, the restaurant itself made a huge fuss about its opening, and the buzz was palpable. Waiting a month to try it seemed like a disservice to our readers, who expect us to be there for big openings and offer early thoughts. Certainly, the restaurant is likely to improve over time as it finds its groove, but this is also a restaurant chain, with locations in other cities. They’ve already been in the restaurant biz, so it seems fair game to judge them early amid their own hoopla about their arrival.

We also chased down the Gogi Korean Taco Truck on its first day of business. How could we not? The folks behind it were tantalizing its followers on Twitter for weeks. It’s also a food truck that appeals to people interested in trendy food items. No one’s going to pay attention if we waited a few weeks to try it. They would’ve already hunted the truck down themselves or got assessments from their Twitter and Facebook friends.

Are we going to rush out and eat at every place on Day One? Probably not. It really depends on the eatery — who’s behind it, what type of place it is, whether the buzz is there.

But because it’s become clear that our Nonstop readers — particularly the foodies who follow us — are a vocal and thoughtful group, I’d like to throw out these questions to you: Do you feel a restaurant review has more credibility if it’s done a few weeks after a restaurant opens? Or are you eager to see reviews as soon as possible?

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  1. Annoddah_Dave
    Posted October 14, 2010 at 8:11 pm

    DS: My answer to your questions, is “Yes”. Astute reviewers understand that an organization takes time to “get its bearings” and the team work has to develop a rhythm with lots of practice. However, these reviewers also know whether the organization has the right stuff from the get go as to theme, style, presentation, quality, service, etc. Understanding of leadership principles help to determine the probability of success. Am sure you could have predicted most of the restaurant closings that have occurred in the recent past and were not surprised by them. Bottom Line: Do it early, but do it again especially if you see a glint of improvement possibilities.

  2. Posted October 14, 2010 at 8:15 pm

    @Annoddah_Dave I agree with this answer. Earlier is better, especially if the restaurant has a lot of potential. A bad experience shouldn’t be written off immediately if you went early, though.

  3. DianeSeo
    Posted October 14, 2010 at 8:24 pm

    @Annoddah_Dave @Sushi Yes, ideally we would go early, then again a little later. Hmmm, I’ll have to figure out a way we can do this…

  4. UncleBullet
    Posted October 14, 2010 at 9:38 pm

    I would opt to wait at least a week before reviewing a new restaurant. Of course you could always go on the first day and if you find it lacking, go again about a week later and see if it’s improved.

  5. MyongChoi
    Posted October 14, 2010 at 10:06 pm

    I say go early. People like my GF and I go out to eat practically every week and we enjoy checking out the new places featured on Nonstop and also places that get positive reviews on Yelp.

    Maybe implement a system where you go to the opening and then do a follow up a month later? I sure wouldn’t mind that.

  6. Posted October 15, 2010 at 9:48 am

    pretty sure the only people who really care who broke a review first are the people in the old school newspaper biz.

    i mean, i would rather read one that’s accurate and relevant…. not first.

  7. Posted October 15, 2010 at 9:59 am

    Hey Christa, good to see you here. You think if you go early to a new restaurant, you can still be accurate and relevant, or is the only way to be accurate to give restaurants time to get into a groove?

  8. badcat808
    Posted October 15, 2010 at 12:20 pm

    DO IT! First impressions are important. As a foodie I love to hear about new places. I believe new restaurants need constant feedback to improve. I think social media gives people the opportunity to say how they feel in a honest way without having to be politically correct and polite when doing it in person. The better restaurants respond to critique and try to improve their food makes me respect them more.

    On the other hand I think a REAL review comes a month or two later without all the hype going on. I’ve had great “grand opening” food and lousy everyday food. Putting love into everyday food is the hardest challenge.

  9. alohasks
    Posted October 15, 2010 at 1:26 pm

    They should be good on opening day as a month later, if they’re any good at all.

  10. islandgirlinnc
    Posted October 15, 2010 at 3:11 pm

    If within budget, it probably would be good to review as soon as the restaurant open and then follow up with another review a month or two later? The first review could also be not as in-depth but a first look kind of review or a mini-review. Perhaps a criteria which entailed things people would like to know on the surface with a mini-review of food. Then later a more in-depth review could be made. Not sure if this compromises the identity of the reviewer. I think many restaurants like many new businesses have to tweak what they do the first month or so, so it might be unfair to judge them so early on. Once they have been opened awhile, it would be fair to say they should have worked all the kinks out. Just a suggestion… wish I was back in Hawaii to try out all these great places you guys review!

  11. turkfontaine
    Posted October 15, 2010 at 4:06 pm

    i think both. people want to know what’s good about what’s new. they also want to know that there’s continuity ongoing.

  12. Harrycovair
    Posted October 15, 2010 at 4:21 pm

    @Diane Seo

    Hi Diane,

    In the restaurant industry, how do establishments judge their improvement? Less customer complaints, less food coming back into the kitchen, faster service, etc.

    Not being an English or Journalism major how do you compare and contrast the two different periods of the review? Do you order the same items as before and judge it against a pre-made check list or do you sit back and observe the interaction between you and the wait staff: timeliness of taking the order, time for delivery of food item, correctness of delivered food, etc.

  13. Posted October 15, 2010 at 5:01 pm

    I don’t think it’s a show of oneupmanship if it is clearly stated to the reader that this is the first day opening. With any project that goes live there are going to be problem(s), whether big or small, that will happen even with all the proper planning and protocols in place. As long as the writer is truthful and states what is presented and what is obvious then there should be no need to question the write up.

    One key to the success of the project will depend on the Owner/Proprietor/General Manger/Project Manager gathering up the facts at the end of the day and see where improvements can be made. This is a generalization that not only applies to restaurants but to all entities and corporations in any field.

    Particularly with restaurants they have their soft openings before one gargantuan grand opening where all the critics show up to have their say in the event. As with any writeup, you’ll get your pros and cons, your approvals and dismissals, your ying and yang but it’s still up to the reader to judge for themselves.

    I happened to be at the opening day of @eatgogi ‘s entrance to the mobile Kogi Truck event with @nonstopmari. I did mention some points that needed to improve but I also did mention that being the first day, I’d go back later to see if there were any improvements. From that second visit I’d make a decision as to whether it’s yay or nay.

    What I like about the NSHNL write up is that there’s always an accompaniment of fuud prom to show what the dish looked like so the reader can see what is being discussed. Let me know if I’m wrong but I can’t think of any other online publication that is doing this currently, in Hawaii, with the format of including each dish with a write up.

  14. DianeSeo
    Posted October 16, 2010 at 12:54 am

    Great comments, everyone. And very helpful. From the feedback here and from our own discussions, the ideal way to cover new restaurants is to go there early for an early take, but then go back a month or so later for a more in depth assessment of the food, service, etc. We might not be able to do this for every eatery, but for significant restaurants, it’s definitely something we’ll consider. We’re trying to figure out a creative way to do this without appearing redundant. Wow, love the way I can tap into our Nonstop readership to help improve the site.

  15. Posted October 29, 2010 at 7:27 am

    Yes, go out and review as soon as practical. As I read this article I was thinking, Sake Street. Hmm, did they even make it past the first month? Their fatal flaw was parking rather than traffic, but it’s not like anyone saw that one coming. Readers will adjust their expectations if the writers take care in setting the tone of their review. If your crew happens to come across a restaurant that hits it out of the park from Day 1, we’d like to know about that too. As for going back a month later, I’d say skip it. Instead, do a poll from readers of new restaurants that deserve a second look. Run it a couple of times a year and twist Melissa’s arm to make sure she invites me.

    Just out of curiosity, are there new restaurants opening every week?

About Diane Seo

Diane Seo, the editor and co-founder of Nonstop Honolulu, is the Digital Media director for Upspring Media. Prior, she served as managing producer of Metromix Honolulu; manager of The Honolulu Advertiser's TGIF section; Managing Director of New Media for the ATP, which runs men's professional tennis worldwide; a senior editor at and a staff writer for the Los Angeles Times.

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