About Stars and Ratings

23 enero, 2024

A debate took place in Bilbao in November, sponsored by the Basque Academy of Gastronomy, on the current situation of the gastronomy and hospitality sector and the question of whether «stars» guarantee the viability of a restaurant.

The undersigned presented the reflections to which his experience as a gastronomic inspector led him.

I mentioned my experience, and the first thing I remember is the suffering that invaded me at the moment of giving the note. And for no other reason than the importance that that note – placed, of course, with the utmost care and respect – could have on the economic future of that family, of those professionals, being me, after all, a mere, more or less capable, amateur.

To give a mark, when evaluating a restaurant, means to reduce a complex reality, where product, decoration, wine cellar, service, location… are involved, to a single element; influencing, in addition, even the mood of the critic at that moment.

There are guides such as Zagat or Macarfi, which diversify the ratings and notes according to the aspect they value, but others stick to single notes, although, fortunately, with a small commentary.

In my time as an inspector, I proposed to my editorial superiors, with little success, the elimination of grades and the strengthening of comments. I felt that in this way the reality of a restaurant could be better reflected. It happens very often that there are places where there is a certain imbalance between the factors on which the notes are based. Let me give a local example: the Basque Country is full of small restaurants scattered throughout the territory, where an extraordinary product is served in very humble settings and on rustically dressed tables. On the other hand, there are restaurants with outstanding paraphernalia where perhaps the treatment of the product is not 10. Would a 7 on average reflect the reality of both restaurants?

The answer I was given was that the grade was very commercial and could not be suppressed.

How much better, and I finish, would it be that, even if there is a referential note or star, the reader would pay more attention to the commentary that can orientate much better on the place to visit.

Author: Fernando Luis Barrio Martín – Librarian Basque Academy of Gastronomy