New Restaurant Ratings System Prepares to Give Chefs and Diners a Big Headache

If you list it, they will come.

It used to be so easy to decide where to eat: False. Now it's about to get even harder: True. Thanks to a new ratings service that aims for more exclusivity than Zagat's, more crowd-sourcing than food critics or guides like Michelin, and more reliability than Yelp, the business of figuring out which restaurant deserves your time and money looks set to become even more complicated.

The new rating system, called Renzell, just launched in New York City, with a list of its own rankings of upscale restaurants there. The rankings are based on reviews submitted by Renzell's membership, currently made up of 2000 avid restaurant-goers who dine out anonymously at high-end spots and pay for their own meals. The company gives the diners detailed questionnaires to fill out via the Renzell app, then applies its own algorithm to figure out the rankings in a range of categories from food to service, cocktails, vibe and beyond. Its slogan: "Data-driven dining."

As co-founder Bo Peabody, a Massachusetts-based entrepreneur and restaurateur, told The New York Times:  “The world of data collection has taken over every industry except for restaurants. The audience we’re going after is dying for this information. We’re trying to root out subjectivity. What we’re doing is scientific.”

Eleven Madison Park

Whether or not the word "scientific" accurately applies here, the rankings are "not fraud-proof," as Peabody admitted to the Times. According to the publication, Renzell claims that it rules out any reviewer who works in the food industry or the media, but it's unclear how the company enforces those exclusions.

Either way, if you build a company based on restaurant rankings, and you release a list covering a food-obsessed city like New York, you're going to get eyeballs. To give a peek at a few of the restaurants that landed top spots: First place overall in NYC goes to Eleven Madison Park, second place to Momofuku Ko, third to Atera, fourth to Daniel. Le Bernardin lands at number 7, which, depending on your opinion or allegiance, might count as a big upset.

Although obviously any rating system is inherently controversial, Renzell is too brand-new to win instant credibility for its rankings just yet, or to cause major fear and loathing in the food industry. But it's fresh out of the gate. The company plans to issue annual rankings and quarterly updates, and to spread to San Francisco and Chicago in 2017.

What if Renzell becomes the go-to system for anointing the stars of the restaurant firmament, a distinction currently held by sources with more mileage, like Michelin and The World's 50 Best Restaurants? Could this mean life or death for chefs and restaurants who don't make the cut? And should any sane restaurateur decide it's best to just open a steakhouse instead? Oddly, steakhouses are one category of high-end restaurant that Renzell avoids completely. As Peabody explained to the Times, they're "too formulaic."

Um, good thing that word doesn't apply to other upscale restaurants at all.

 

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