Where to Find the Best Restaurants Online (and How to be a Food Critic!)
I can’t tell you how many hours I’ve spent browsing the “top restaurants in Waterloo” or “Quebec City” or “New Orleans”, or wherever else I happen to be at the time. Maybe that makes me the most indecisive person ever, or maybe it just means I like exploring my options…and let me tell you, there are A LOT of them. The internet is full of restaurant reviews, ratings and critiques, and although searching for the perfect dining experience may get overwhelming at times, there are easy ways to navigate this wonderful landscape. Below you will find websites to help you easily find and place reservations with the restaurant you’re looking for, as well as tips on how to write your very own restaurant review. Bon appétit!
Restaurant Review and Reservation Sites
You may think of TripAdvisor as a site just for booking vacations and flights, but this isn’t the case. In fact, I bet that if you Google search “best restaurants in *insert city name here*”, the top result will be from TripAdvisor. It contains hundreds of customer reviews for hundreds of restaurants in each city – London, Ontario alone has 897 restaurants with reviews on the site! To use it, go to tripadvisor.ca, then click the “Restaurants” tab at the top. From there, type in your city’s name, and a long list of restaurants will come up. You can then sort them by rating (which ones are rated the highest by customers), name, and price. You can even type in additional search criteria, like what kind of food you’re looking for. The search bar is located at the top beside the city name, and you can insert almost anything. You can search for tacos, Italian, or sushi – whatever you feel like eating – and a list of restaurants will come up with ratings and reviews. These reviews even often include customers’ pictures of meals, interiors of restaurants, and menus, so you’ll have a good idea of what you’re getting yourself into!
Yelp is a site similar to TripAdvisor, but has a heavier focus on shopping, nightlife and food. To get started, you have to type in what you’re looking for in the “Find” search bar and where you’re looking for it in the “Near” search bar. Don’t worry, you don’t need to know exactly what kind of food you’re looking for yet – you can just type in “Restaurants” in the “Find” bar if you want lots of options. Then, you’re presented with a list of the top-rated restaurants, but you’re given a list of checkboxes which give you the chance to narrow down your search further. You can narrow it down by price, distance, features (such as “good for kids” or “take-out”), and category. This is a great feature if you’re looking for a customizable dining experience. Customers can also post reviews and pictures on Yelp.
This website is a very unique experience for online restaurant researchers. You just go to opentable.com, select how many people are in your party, which day you’d like to go out for dinner and at what time, and which city you’d like to eat out in. A list of results is returned to you displaying some of the top restaurants in the area with your specified availability. They also often come complete with ratings and pictures. If you see a restaurant you’d like to try out, you click on the reservation time you’d like to secure, enter your name and phone number, and click “complete reservation”. Voila! Now you’re booked in, and you’re done making your reservation. The cool thing about OpenTable is that every time you make a reservation, you get points. And when you have enough points, you can redeem them for a Dining Rewards Gift or Amazon gift card! So you’re basically getting rewards for free, which is never a bad thing.
Writing Your Own Review
Do you ever feel like you could be a great food critic? Fortunately, the internet makes that dream a very easy reality! On both TripAdvisor and Yelp, you can write your own review for any restaurant you’ve been to on the database. All you have to do is sign up for the site with a few basic pieces of profile information, then either search for the exact restaurant you want to review, or browse the top-rated list to see which ones you’ve been to and would like to critique. After you click on a specific restaurant, you will see a “Write a Review” button appear, and you just need to select it and start writing! You can also select the “Write a Review” button on the horizontal menu located at the top of the page on both tripadvisor.ca and yelp.ca and search from there.
TripAdvisor’s review form has a ton of sections – your overall rating, review title, your actual review, what type of visit you had, when you visited, and a few other questions. You can choose for it to be a very in-depth critique if you’d like, or you can skip the optional extra questions if you want to save time.
Yelp’s review form has just two sections – your overall rating of the restaurant and your actual review. It doesn’t give you as much as a “restaurant critic” feeling because of the limited questions, which may be why Yelp has fewer reviews on it overall. It’s fun to be asked the user experience questions because you know that you’re helping out your fellow diners and that your opinion is really being valued!
Remember to make your reviews user-friendly. What would you want to know if you were looking for a place to eat? Talk about the things you did like and the things you didn’t like, including the food, service, and atmosphere. Even writing about which specific dishes were good and which ones weren’t is very helpful! Of course, try your best to be polite even if you weren’t a fan of the restaurant, and proofread your review before submitting it. It won’t help anyone if they can’t decipher your typos!
No matter which site you decided to post a review on, you’ll be making future diners’ lives easier by giving them feedback on your experience, and maybe even advice on what to order and what to stay away from. After all, you were in their shoes once too, and you probably will be again. The power of critique is in your hands – use it wisely!
Caitlin Feehan, Blogger & Editor
Converse have been my footwear of choice for the past 9 years, I’m convinced that all doors and sidewalks are conspiring against me, and I enjoy sticking my head out of the passenger window on long car rides.