The Black Hole of Restaurant Star Ratings


Man, do I get frustrated with people debating the "meaning" of restaurant star ratings. Such ratings seem a necessary evil of restaurant criticism, and can be generally helpful – provided the given media outlet has a consistent rating system in place long enough for the important or interesting restaurants in question to have cycled through the process and stand on an even footing.

Locally, the Dallas Morning News is the most visible and noteworthy bestower of such stars. The paper changed their system in 2007 from one that featured 'half-stars' as well. DMN's restaurant critic, Leslie Brenner, is constantly under fire for her choices in performing said task. I'm not here to debate her opinions, but rather look at what the stars are meant to indicate here in Dallas and elsewhere in the dining world.

A typical comment regarding a local star rating goes something like this, "Another 'Good" review… and that only merits 2 stars?!"  Well, yes. Look at what the ratings mean!

Dallas Morning News:  (number of restaurants so rated)

*****    Extraordinary – Defines fine dining in the region.  (2)

 ****    Excellent – One of the finest restaurants in Dallas-Fort Worth.  (Over 50) 

  ***    Very Good – A destination restaurant for this type of dining. (Over 100)

   **    Good  - Commendable effort, but experience can be uneven.

    *    Fair - Experience is generally disappointing.

    0    Poor

Michelin Guide: NYC

  ***    Excellent cuisine and worth the journey.  (5)

   **    Excellent cooking and worth a detour.  (10)

    *    A very good restaurant in its category.  (42)

New York Times:

 ****    Extraordinary.  (7)

  ***    Excellent.  (Approx 32)

   **    Very Good.

    *    Good.

    0    Satisfactory, Fair or Poor.

Atlanta Journal-Constitution:

*****    Sets the standard for dining in the region.  (4)

 ****    Defines excellence in local dining.  (32)

  ***    Merits a drive if you're looking for this kind of dining.  (99)

   **    A worthy addition to its neighborhood, and the food is consistent.

    *    A worthy addition to its neighborhood, but the food is hit and miss. 

Pretty interesting stuff. First of all, if you live in New York City your favorite little family owned restaurant that consistently pleases may have one star in the NYT, and they'd be happy about it. Meanwhile one Michelin star puts you in the top 0.2% of all restaurants in NYC!

To be sure, the DMN has a daunting task ahead in clearing out the 4 Star (Excellent) and 3 Star (Very Good) categories for a truer picture of the dining scene (as it relates to other major cities). There are very few exceptional restaurants in town and just because you "Really Love" a place doesn't make it 'Excellent'. 

That said, who cares. If you love a place, a review or star rating should have no bearing on your opinion. If you are looking for a recommendation on someplace new, spend 5 minutes on Google – you can get a pretty good idea of what to expect.

Of course – my opinion is always the best.  :^)