Is There Such a Thing as a Zero-Star Restaurant?

A recent New York Times review of fast food restaurant Locol would indicate that the answer is an emphatic “Yes.”

When a restaurant staff slaves over a menu, putting their heart and soul into a dish, is it fair to deconstruct such effort into a zero-star review? Can a restaurant truly perform so poorly that it fails to earn a single star?

Personally, I would only reserve a zero-star rating for a restaurant that was a health and safety hazard. If I witnessed unclean conditions or believed that my food was tainted in some way, then a zero-star review would be justified to protect the public.

A zero star means that there’s not a single redeeming quality about the entire restaurant. It says that there’s not one bright spot across the restaurant’s staff, menu, service, or décor that can be viewed positively. I struggle to think that not a single person across an entire staff doesn’t have enough redeeming qualities to deserve half of a star.

Even Yelp doesn’t allow a guest to give a restaurant a review lower than one star. Some would argue that this helps normalize the rating scale, a mathematical decision to ensure that zero-star reviews don’t ruin the score of an otherwise good restaurant. Just because a customer had a bad experience with his waiter or his entrée was undercooked, that doesn’t mean that the restaurant is a complete zero.

Without encountering every single person and trying every single dish at a restaurant, is a bad review perfectly defensible? If a guest eats a single appetizer, entrée, and dessert, he is only experiencing a minute fraction of the entire menu. If a patron only interacts with his designated server, he equally has only met a minor percentage of the overall staff. Just because the meal may not have met his expectations, or because his server may have been rude, this doesn’t mean that the entire restaurant is horrible. As a restaurant operator and manger, it’s important to remind your staff that one bad review does not encapsulate an entire organization. Nor does one good review free them from the need to pursue continual improvement.

When dining at a restaurant a guest only experiences a sliver of what the establishment offers. Restaurant customers only see a small piece of the entire puzzle. As opposed to a musical, movie, or book, in which a consumer experiences the totality of the finished work, a single restaurant meal does not encompass all that a restaurant is. This is why all reviews must be taken with a grain of salt.