Why I Don’t Write “Bad Reviews”

As I was perusing through social media today to check comments on my recent article, I came across this:

“Clarissa Wei never writes bad reviews.”

It was put in a negative context, as if, because I don’t write negative reviews on restaurants, I’m not as legitimate of a source.

For one, I’m not hired to be a reviewer and weigh the cons. My assignments are usually theme-based.

But the issue goes deeper than the nature of my assignments. It’s a moral one.

I don’t want to write negative reviews.

Because if a place is terrible, I would rather not write about it. And there have been plenty of moments where I have spent my own money on a restaurant with the purpose of writing about it, only to realize that it was horrible. I didn’t bitch about it online. I simply just ignored it and it didn’t get a write-up.

I’m not a fan of snark. There’s enough negativity in the interwebs and the last thing restaurant owners, (who have poured their blood, sweat, and tears into their business) need is a stranger tearing them apart. I’ve never worked at a restaurant, but the one-on-one interviews tell me enough. Chefs are some of the hardest working people out there. They don’t get enough credit.

The thing is, chefs change. Owners change. Improvements are possible.

But words, typed online or published, live on forever. And for these people, their reputations are forever tainted because that’s what search results can do to you. SEO is a bitch.

Internet negativity is a #firstworldproblem.

If I have a serious issue with a restaurant, I tell it to their face. I don’t embarrass them in front of their peers and customers.

Mind you, if I was hired to do an investigative article, that would be a completely different story. If it was a story that had public interest and had to do with health, my approach would be different. But I don’t deal with that.

I deal with: “Look, these restaurants are cool because a) b) and c). If you want to have a good time, this is what I recommend you order.”

As someone who covers the San Gabriel Valley restaurant scene, where chefs are largely unnoticed and restaurants are opened not for the glitz and glamour, but out of necessity, I ask:

Why do people think it’s okay to tear down a stranger’s business?

Many of these restaurant owners barely know English so imagine all the work they had to go through to even set up a restaurant.

From my perspective, the bad restaurants in town already get enough negativity from user-generated review sites like Yelp. If you’re into that, fine. I’m not discrediting the importance of feedback, nor am I advocating self-censorship.

This is my philosophy. Admittedly, it’s a philosophy I didn’t always have. News flash: it’s easier to get page views with negative write-ups. The crowds love a good brawl.

I’m learning.

As someone who has a modest amount of media klout, I don’t want to be the girl who tears down restaurants. I will generate “must-go” lists and features, but I will never generate a “worst restaurants of Los Angeles” list.

For goodness sakes guys, this is food. We’re not talking politics, or healthcare, or matters of life and death. The fact that we can care about good, quality food is a luxury in and of itself and that should be celebrated.

In Chinese culture, food is at the very center. One of our most common greetings is “你吃了嗎?” which means “Have you eaten yet?” Food is a means of community, it’s a means of networking, it’s how people connect with each other. It should be a positive thing.

Unfortunately, it’s really not. I’m a relative newcomer in this whole food world scene, but god, have I seen my fair share of drama since I started two years ago. Backstabbing, gossip, passive-aggressiveness, and a lot of snark.

There are very few people in this weird world I can reach out to for genuine help and advice without expecting to have to do a favor in return. Maybe that’s just the nature of the media landscape in general. I don’t know. You tell me.

But as for me, I’m staying out of it.



  1. Bob Aronoff

    Dear Clarissa — I might be the “guilty” party in making that comment — sounds like me — or maybe it is another person. I wrote because diners like me use such sources as the Zagat guide for their ratings by those who sample the food. I like the AAA guidebooks because they rate restaurants by grading them with stars (or the equivalent). The LA County Health Dept gives restaurants grades as to the their cleanliness — the one aspect of eating food that I look for in an eatery, i.e., cleanliness. But let me say I fully, repeat, fully respect your stance on your reviews and after reading where you stand, I absolutely and unquestionably support your style of reviews. However, I do like to see some comparison between eateries, I avoid restaurant that appear to be unclean or receive low ratings by city or county health depts. I know you can get food poisoning anywhere but the chances are greatly reduced in clean eateries. I have had my share of food poisonings and I think that is due to poor handling of food or food unfit for human consumption.

    I want to emphasize and make unmistakably clear how much I surely do appreciate all the work and untold hours you put in with the aim of making others have a pleasant culinary experience. I do understand, after reading your words, that unrecommendable places don’t get written up, in essence, a rating of sorts. .Yes, we all know that chefs and owners do change, purveyors may deliver a bad product, a one-time bad experience should forever stain an eatery, each reviewer has their own style and standards that they apply to a review and so on, Without a doubt, I feel a number of people slave away in the kitchen and cleaning up things — I did my share of KP while in the army. Don’t go overboard on me as I so very much appreciate what you do for those of us who live in the SGV. Keep on doing the great reviews you do.

    In fact, have you ever thought of having a “donate” dialog box for some of us appreciate what you do for everyone who reads your blog as a means of helping out for the monies you spend on us? Maybe payment by PayPal or credit card or a USPO box to send donations. I would be more than pleased to participate. I only use PayPal not wanting to put my credit card numbers over the Internet. Bob

    P.S. Thanks for not making those who wish to make comments on your column not to have to sign in and get passwords to do so. A Friend forwarded your thoughts to me from twitter as I use only a simple cell phone — and maybe that’s because I have a simple brain (a little humor is the spice of life !)