CULTURE

Foodie website becomes a force in the Athens restaurant scene

We had just finished our dinner and were having a cup of coffee when the restaurant owner, an old friend, came over to our table for a chat. Things had slowed down by then and the conversation turned to business. “It’s not so bad. I think it will start picking up again,” noted the host of the fairly new restaurant. Then, all of a sudden, he laid it out: “I’d really appreciate it if you could go on to this site called ask4food.gr and write a good review.”

He went on to explain that a couple of clients had made a few negative comments about the restaurant online. This has led to lower average ratings and the effects were already tangible. We responded that we’d be sure to write our impressions, though we never actually got round to it. It wasn’t so much that we had not been satisfied by the food, but that we also used the site in question and wanted to respect the ask4food.gr mantra: “Among food lovers, there must be honesty.”

Featuring over 14,000 registered users, 300,000 unique visitors per month, 18,000 daily visits and 1,000 new restaurant reviews every month, ask4food.gr is developing into the Greek capital’s culinary arbiter. For the time being, the website covers Athens and its environs. The site gives diners the opportunity to publish restaurant reviews and ratings, vote for their favorite users and most trusted reviews, and create their own lists of favorite restaurants as well as those they want to visit. Meanwhile, there is an increasing belief among the site’s users as well as other food lovers that professional reviews in magazines do not reflect reality.

At the same time, restaurant owners and chefs are tempted to upload their own positive reviews on ask4food.gr. According to the website’s co-founder and current head of business development, Spyros Doxiadis (who founded ask4food.gr together with web developer Dimitris Spanos), such instances are increasing along with the site’s popularity. In an effort to tackle the problem and enhance the community’s credibility, the company has started using “Smart Scores,” a technological innovation based on a series of statistical models.

“Right from the start we have been particularly sensitive to the issue of credibility and that is why we are constantly upgrading publication limitations along with the tools we give our readers so they can evaluate the authenticity of reviews themselves. We are also very satisfied by the fact that most businesspeople come to us in good faith, in order to take advantage of the site’s management and communication tools for their enterprises, as opposed to trying to enhance their restaurant’s image,” noted Doxiadis.

Among the various services provided by the website, owners can update restaurant profiles, change menus and price listings, as well as respond to users’ reviews. According to Doxiadis, the most significant change brought about by ask4food.gr is that venues without publicity budgets have seen a sharp rise in their popularity due to happy customers willing to share their dining experiences.

“The opposite is also true, of course; restaurants soaring for a short period of time more due to hype than for actual services rendered,” noted Doxiadis. “What we are seeing now is that the kind of public opinion reflected in ask4food reviews brings the entire process back down to Earth.”