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A Travel Writer’s Quandary

Posted by on June 6, 2011

I forked up another bite of my barely warm dinner and finally came to the conclusion that it was inedible. Everyone in our group agreed. The service was shoddy, they were out of half the offerings on the menu and the food was just plain terrible.  This was not a restaurant to which we would be returning.

There was only one problem.

I had received a comped meal and was expected to write a glowing review about this place.

What to do?

This was the first time I had ever been in this situation. For the past couple of years, I have been very fortunate to be offered press trips and other amenities with the implicit understanding that I would advertise for them by writing about them in various venues. It had never been a problem. Of course, every single hotel/resort/restaurant/tour was not perfect in every way but the good had always outweighed the bad.

Until now.

When I came home and started writing about our destination and all our experiences at this destination, I arrived at this restaurant on my list and came to a standstill. What to do. Maybe I could try to write something good…but, as I reviewed my notes and remembered the experience, there was no good. Except maybe the desserts! Yeah, the desserts were good! But…I couldn’t in good conscience write a review for this restaurant which encouraged people to go there when I knew they would probably have a bad experience.

Those of us that get hosted or comped experiences are careful to say that we will be honest in our reviews and that’s easy to say but really? You are really going to write a terrible review? Make an enemy of that venue, the PR person who arranged it, the local tourism board…seriously?

I finally decided the best way to handle it was to contact the PR person and tell them I could not write a review and exactly why. I haven’t heard back yet. I hope I do.

I am perfectly willing to give the restaurant another try whenever I return to that destination. Maybe it was just a bad night. Or a bad waiter. Or a bad chef. Who knows.

I just can’t write the terrible, terrible review that they deserve for that one experience.

Could you?

14 Responses to A Travel Writer’s Quandary

  1. Sarah

    I have always just not reviewed if I wasn’t happy with the product. I contact them and let them know, but I review on a “if you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all” policy.

    Now, I did write my first negative review just this weekend, but it was for the book club I am writing for. I felt that I couldn’t just say I refused to discuss my feelings on the book, so I was honest and said I didn’t enjoy it. But when it comes to product reviews, I stick with letting the company know I wasn’t happy with it, but not putting in print anything negative!
    Sarah recently posted..Two Weeks

  2. Michael

    I travel with Cosmos a good bit and stay in three star hotels and eat in some questionable spots. I know before I leave that it’s only a three star vacation so I pretty much get what I pay for. I am traveling to Turkey in October with Gate 1 Travel, a four star company. My expectations will go up accordingly. I agree with Sarah………if you can’t say something good, then it’s best to say nothing at all. Jan, I really enjoy following you around the world.

    Mike in Atlanta

  3. Debbie Beardsley @ European Travelista

    That is a tough dilemma. I would never write a positive review that I didn’t feel was earned. I think you are handling the issue correctly with this restaurant.

    If I was reviewing a product, I would also be honest. If I didn’t like the way it worked I would say so.
    Debbie Beardsley @ European Travelista recently posted..Musings on European Rail Travel

  4. David @ MalaysiaAsia

    It’s entirely up to you, if it was me, I would just write a very neutral review and playing with my words not to sound terrible. If it was really horrible, I simply would not even bother writing.
    David @ MalaysiaAsia recently posted..Visiting Kota Bharu in Kelantan

  5. Scott - Quirky Travel Guy

    I’d just write the negative review. Why do you feel you were expected to write a glowing review? I doubt you’d be “making an enemy” out of anybody – people who solicit reviews understand they won’t all be positive.

    Or maybe I’m a bit more critical because of my experience reviewing music and giving dozens of negative CD reviews without a second thought :)

    Also, if you do give the restaurant a second chance and have a better experience, I hope you’ll mention in your review that your first experience there wasn’t as good. As a reader, I would consider the omission of that information to be dishonest.
    Scott – Quirky Travel Guy recently posted..9 Things You Didn’t Know About Yellowstone National Park

  6. The Dropout

    I understand how you feel. Early in my career I had to do some restaurant reviews for the local paper.
    If you did feel torn about being honest, you could write your bad review and send it to the PR person and the restaurant and say — this would be your honest review but you’re not publishing because you can’t see the benefit in it. Perhaps if you gave the place a second chance it would be ok. (Then in your final review you’d mention the earlier crash and burn and the excellent follow experience). I think it’s best to be honest.
    The Dropout recently posted..Jurong Frog Farm – BYO Prince

  7. Mel travelled

    What a conundrum! Find any positives you can…you simply skipped through the mains in anticipation for the dessert…perhaps?

  8. Jillian

    I think you have a duty to be honest and fair. It’s great that you contacted the PR person, I would tell them how you truly felt about the place, give them specifics so they can pass those along and help them improve. If you do still want to write a review (after all people need to know what places are bad too!) be objective and fair. I know what you mean, we wrote some bad reviews of operators, etc.. on our trip. We tried to be fair and honest about them, if the equipment was unsafe we said that, but also detailed the conditions of our trip (ie last minute, etc..) to give the reader some perspective.
    Jillian recently posted..Photo- Hyena at Night

  9. inka

    You did the absolutely right thing by contacting the PR person and telling them how you felt. Tricky situation, no?
    inka recently posted..Food and fashion in the land of the Kurds

  10. Sophie | Sophie's World

    I think you made the right decision.
    Sophie | Sophie’s World recently posted..Bratislava Street Art

  11. Laurel

    I think you handled the situation perfectly. I couldn’t write a good review of a bad experience in good faith either, but would also be hesitant to write a bad review for the reasons you’ve mentioned. I’ve been lucky so far and have only had positive experiences.
    Laurel recently posted..Things to Do in Winchester

  12. Christy @ Technosyncratic

    Hmm, what a difficult situation to be in. I would find it very difficult to write a bad review unless the experience was truly horrendous. But in that middle gray area I wouldn’t really know what action to take, so I’m glad I read this post and the comments – I think I would also tell the contact person that I just wouldn’t write a review at all. Tough call, though…
    Christy @ Technosyncratic recently posted..The Sea Spirit House in Yachats- OR

  13. robin

    Uncomfortable, but if people solicit review they have to be prepared for a negative one. otherwise the whole reviewing thing becomes an infomercial.
    robin recently posted..Playa

  14. Jeremy Branham

    What a tough position to be in! I say you have to be honest and people need to realize that not everything they prepare is going to suit everyone’s tastes. I think you took the right approach to contacting them before you wrote an honest review. Let us know what happens!
    Jeremy Branham recently posted..Vancouver- TBEX- travel blogging- and my first modeling gig

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