Wednesday, July 9, 2014


Restaurant rating systems typically suffer from a lack of usefulness, even for the experienced traveler. For me, a single digit rating (number of stars) fails to capture the complexity of the dining experience. It leaves the reader to guess at the relative importance of style over substance, or even style and substance over comfort. How can you compare the trendy, expensive, juice bar with excellent smoothies and lousy service to the family style restaurant with the excellent veggie burgers and gregarious, handsome waiter? How can you compare the three star organic, locally-sourced corner sandwich shop with the five star fancy restaurant that only offers you a salad bar?

The QISA (pronounced kwee-sa) rating stands for Quality, Innovation, Service, and Ambience. Each element is given a single digit on a one to five scale with three being average, one being exceptionally bad, and five being exceptionally good. By anchoring the scale at a three, I start with the assumption that most of the restaurants I patronize are forgettable, not horribly bad, but not noticeably exceptional either. For me to praise or warn about a restaurant, I need to be nudged in one direction or another.
The QISA elements are:
  • Quality, which refers to taste and basic preparation. A 3-rating is average, a 5-rating is exceptionally good, and a 1-rating…well, we’ve all been there and hope to never go back. Note that the Quality refers to only the vegetarian dishes on the menu. An exceptional steak restaurant with a mediocre salad bar is still just mediocre.
  • Innovation, which refers to both innovation and creativity. A 5-rating provides me something novel, or at least a completely new take on an old theme. A 1-rating means that I left the restaurant bored with the food.
  • Service, which means just that. Most restaurants are 3-rated, meaning that you didn’t notice the service one way or another. If I have to wait too long for my food, they get my order wrong (and don’t correct it), or they are just plain rude, this is going to be a 2- or 1-rating.
  • Ambience, which is the atmosphere of the restaurant. A 3-rating suggests that I didn’t notice the ambience one way or the other. A 5-rating was transcendent. A 1-rating was uncomfortable, dirty, loud, or just plain wrong.
I list objective categories separately. Average cost of main entrees (not of the entire meal) is reported as a range. Herbivorosity (my new word for the day) is given as Vegan, Vegetarian, Vegetarian-Friendly, and Vegetarian-Possible. For sake of argument, Vegetarian-Friendly means that 1/10 of the main entrée items are ovo-lacto vegetarian (eggs and dairy, but no fish). Vegetarian-Possible means that I could find at least one ovo-lacto meal without resorting entirely to side dishes. The only other category is Vegetarian-Antagonistic, but I probably will not be rating any of those restaurants.

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