Websites like Yelp and TripAdvisor — and their accompanying apps — can be handy, but they’re vastly less useful than just asking people for recommendations.
A common travel scenario: You find yourself in a new city, excited to explore its culinary wonders but low on practical information. What do you do?
For a long time, I’d look up good restaurants online or via apps. Websites like Yelp*, TripAdvisor, and many others market themselves as essential tools for uncovering local delights, and they can be useful.
Or not. Actually, I can’t recall any time I’ve found a truly great place via these websites. I’ve found acceptable restaurants, and even pretty good ones, but especially as I’ve traveled dozens of times this summer, I found them relatively useless. There’s just too much information and the search filters are too broad.
How, for example, can I find divey restaurants that locals like and that haven’t been sanitized to feel like chains or Ikea showrooms? How can I find a place near my current location that serves cheap sandwiches, has wifi, takes credit cards, and won’t be crowded? How I find exclusively places that are family run?
My point here is that the search for restaurants exposes the weaknesses of the internet and of having too much information. In the end, I don’t want to choose from among thousands of restaurants. Nor do I really want the single negative experiences of random people — things like some person having a bad server three years ago — dictating my experiences.
Luckily, however, here is a better way: asking actual people for advice. Lately, as I’ve been traveling to different cities, I’ve been asking on whatever social media I use most (Twitter, in my case) for recommendations. That’s how I found most of the places on our growing map of favorite US restaurants.
In Atlanta, for example, I put out a call in the afternoon for somewhere to grab dinner.
By that evening, I had numerous recommendations, including for Eats, an incredible jerk chicken restaurant.
I’ve found numerous great restaurants that way. But social media isn’t the only option. There’s also real life.
For instance, last week I was headed to Fairfield, Connecticut — not a large city nor one that I thought many people would have much information about.
But I was wrong; one of my editors at work actually recommended Pepe’s Pizzeria, a small local chain (typically the only kind of chain I like) that cooks its pizza over coals. I never would have found it without the recommendation.
Asking for advice seems like an obvious move. But it can be A) surprisingly difficult when you don’t know anyone in a city, and B) travel and food-oriented businesses have nothing to gain if everyone gets free information from people in their social (real or online) networks.
Still, in my experience it’s far and away better than relying solely on reviews. And luckily these days, social media means we have a larger pool of actual people to draw from than ever before.
*Yelp’s Monocle, an augmented reality component of its app is pretty cool. Though I haven’t found it especially useful yet, it is fun.
— Jim Dalrymple II