Is Instagram replacing Tripadvisor as the go-to for restaurant reviews?

People have been wanting to enjoy a final meal out before lockdown begins. Photo: Fizkes/Getty Image

Where do you visit before booking a meal out? - Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto

For restaurants looking to make a name for themselves, reviews and word of mouth are key.

A five-star post online or glowing recommendation can set a business apart from its competitors.

And in the last few years Tripadvisor has arguably dominated the online reviews market. Loved and loathed by restaurateurs and landlords, it has been millions of people's first go-to when researching a meal out or looking for somewhere to stay.

But the collapse of global travel has hit it hard (it has cut 900 jobs in the last year), and in lockdowns businesses have turned to social media pages to connect with customers.

In particular, photo sharing app Instagram has thrived, with a global community of younger food-lovers (it's largest audience share is aged 25 to 34) posting home cooked meals and following the spots they can't wait to reopen.

But in an age of pop-ups, street food and social media, where does that leave Tripadvisor?

The Urban Eatery team - Freddie Griggs, Amelia Balding and Darcy Mcleod Picture: Contributed

The Urban Eatery team - Freddie Griggs, Amelia Balding and Darcy Mcleod Picture: Contributed - Credit: Archant

Freddie Griggs runs Urban Eatery, which has a residency at the Fat Cat and Canary on Thorpe Road.

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On the whole, he said, his attitude is "the more reviews the merrier", but said they don't have a Tripadvisor page, something which hadn't occurred to him until a customer asked recently.

In his previous work at Bishop's Restaurant, he said he'd had a mixed experience with online reviews, in particular outdated photos which became the first website visitors would see.

"To be honest I have always had a bit of a love hate relationship with it," he said. "Everyone thinks they are a critic and some people can be really harsh with what they say and not be considerate.

Pizza is the East of England's most popular takeaway, according to the British Takeaway Campaign. Pi

The way we choose where to eat out has evolved in the pandemic. - Credit: Matthew Usher

"But then everyone uses it and of course we do want people to leave good reviews."

When building Urban Eatery, Instagram has been their main tool.

"It's a community," he said, "it's a place where we can interact with our customers 24/7. No-one knew about us and now we are becoming more of a name that people do know."

Review websites often require an address to register a business, meaning some of the growing number of virtual restaurants (those set up without a physical home, often in shared kitchens, to cater mainly for delivery) and pop-up kitchens are less likely to be registered.

At the Blues Kitchen, which does have a base at The Rosebery on Rosebery Road in Norwich, Ross Earley said they had decided against opening a Tripadvisor page.

"People often use it as a bad space to leave negative comments," he said. "I don't think I like what it stands for."

Instead, he said, Instagram had been key to growing a following in the pandemic, and that customers often cited it when they booked. He said they took most of their bookings through the app.

Living life through social media does nobody any good, argues Rachel Moore PHOTO: Getty images

Photo sharing app Instagram has become a go-to for food-lovers in the last decade. - Credit: Getty Images

Tripadvisor said putting the two platforms side by side created a "false comparison", and that many people use both together.

"Lots of people may use an app like Instagram initially to get inspired or seek ideas, but when it comes to actually turning those plans into reality, Tripadvisor is still where they go to find out what a place is really like and make a final decision on where to book/reserve," they said.

They said as the world reopened, the platform was "as relevant as ever", and that features including people being able to see what Covid measures venues had in place and seek advice from people on forums set it apart.

Chef patron Ben Handley behind the bar at The Duck Inn in Stanhoe, which was reviewed by Giles Coren

Chef patron Ben Handley behind the bar at The Duck Inn in Stanhoe, which was reviewed by Giles Coren in The Sunday Times. - Credit: AWPR/Andrew Waddison

Ben Handley, of the Duck Inn at Stanhoe, in north Norfolk, has previously voiced frustration at review websites, including at one review which bemoaned dishes' presentation but included photos of half-eaten food.

"Strangely we had a review on TripAdvisor posted sometime in March, reviewing their experience last year, which I thought was a bit old," he said. "But despite my misgivings towards [Tripadvisor] we actually get a good amount of positive reviews, more than we do bad ones."

But he said there were downsides to any platform - and that people in the industry had seen comments from diners complaining about the bad weather.

"The people who support you have, if anything, been even more supportive and more excited when we post on Instagram," he said.

"I think social media is a very positive tool, but you are not always protected against criticism. You have to grow a bit of a thicker skin."

Gunton was allegedly selling active Instagram accounts for $3,000 each. Picture: Getty Images

Tripadvisor says people use its platform in conjunction with other apps. - Credit: Getty Images

What are the issues with review websites?

Most concerns centre around a lack of transparency about those posting, and verification of what they say.

In Autumn last year, Morston Hall chef Galton Blackiston called on Tripadvisor to do more to remove malicious posts quickly, after he struggled to have one which contained racist language removed. It was later taken down.

Norfolk chef Charlie Hodson has previously spoken about how negative reviews, particularly those which are not intended to be constructive, can take a toll on the mental health of workers in an already difficult and high-pressured industry.

And Mario Luchai, of Trattoria Rustica in Princes Street, previously hit back at a review in which someone said his staff were not Italian and complained there was no children's menu.

Mario Luchai, owner of Trattoria Rustica responded to a Trip Advisor review criticising them for not

Mario Luchai, of Trattoria Rustica, once hit back at customers who left him a negative review online, complaining about a lack of children's options. - Credit: Archant

At the time, he urged customers to raise any concerns they had in restaurants, and not to post them online afterwards.

What do our readers do - and what do the stats show?

We asked our readers how they researched where they eat out.

It was a fairly mixed bag - when we asked whether people setting up a new business would open a Tripadvisor page or not, it was an even split, with 46pc saying they would and 54pc saying they wouldn’t.

Several others said they used Instagram when searching out a new place to eat, or turned to food bloggers who posted about restaurants in the local area, including the Fry Up Inspector and Love Norwich Food, though others said they would check reviews online.

Both are clearly among the first go-tos - a previous study from restaurant group Zizzi suggested that 30pc of 18 to 35-year-olds would avoid a restaurant if it had a bad Instagram presence.

Data published this year shows that food and drink account for 43pc of Instagram users’ top interests.

And in January 2021, the number of visitors to reached roughly 98 million, making it the most visited travel and tourism website worldwide.