The staff of Petalon are of a roughly similar age, and as a result we’ve all lived through a revolution in what reviews people tend to read. When we were first exploring the world we would buy a guide book and use it to educate ourselves about what was good in a new area before we arrived. It’s easy to look back on these guides fondly. They allowed you to paint a picture of a place before you arrived and there was quite a bit of faith in the veracity of the opinions and reviews that they contained, coming as they did from a professional traveller. They weren’t perfect though. Plenty of people at the time complained that the minority of restaurants, hotels and experiences that made it in to these reviews then received a disproportionate amount of business. Business became circular, with those that had the honour of inclusion quickly becoming “must-see” attractions for any visitor, further solidifying their status.

These days such travel books are more of a quaint novelty for most people. Trip Advisor and a few other online review sources absolutely dominate the market. In any unfamiliar town if you google “best places to eat in x” or “things to do in y” you are very, very likely to have Trip Advisor’s resources on the area at the very top of your list. These reviews are inevitably of a mixed quality, particularly in a world where people are far more motivated to complain about something bad than share something brilliant. As a result, the most prominent businesses are no longer in a privileged position in this arena, rather they are there to be shot at.

For customer-facing businesses the fear of bad reviews on this and other websites is constant. No wonder some of them have gone to quite bizarre lengths to boost their scores, including bribing those who leave good reviews and charging those who leave bad ones. Many people would argue that this fear is unnecessary. I think we’d all like to believe we operate in the kind of meritocratic environment in which you’d only receive bad reviews if you were doing a bad job. Unfortunately that isn’t the case. Besides the people who post lots of bad reviews about other businesses as a way of increasing the value of their own in comparison, there’s also an odd trend on google reviews at the moment for becoming a “local guide” - something you have to post a certain number of reviews to achieve. You could generously credit google by saying they do this to motivate people to educate other people from their local area about great and bad places, but it appears to just encourage irrelevant or incoherent ratings of places people have often never been. Consider a 3 star review we received the other week from someone who has never either used our service or spoken to us: “Found out that they only take orders online. The address noted is where the arrangements are put together”. How is that a review? Don’t worry, this isn’t the start of a rant. We’ve talked about the best way to share our weirdest and funniest complaints on a more public forum. Unfortunatley we decided that it probably isn’t possible.

The only logical conclusion seems to be that a preoccupation with reviews will most likely drive you mad. Bearing in mind everything we’ve said above, and where so often there’s no verification of whether people are even customers or not, you're simply at the mercy of unpredictable forces. But do reviews even matter? There’s a Mexican food chain in London called Mi Casa Burritos. Their average rating on Google is 1.3. That is astonishing. You don’t need a degree in maths to see that when you’ve got hundreds of reviews and people can’t even give you a score of 0 to have an average rating of 1.3 is mind-bogglingly bad. And yet this chain has had concessions in most of London’s busiest rail stations for half a decade, suggesting that commercially they are probably not doing terribly.

In the end the answer is probably just to run your own race, try and do what you do as well as possible and hope that the way people review you reflects that. If that doesn’t work and someone still gives you a bad rating, don’t lose your temper and just try and give the funniest reply possible.

Florence Hill