18 November 2012

Zimbabwe: Zoap 2012 Reviews Drawing to Close

The Zim on a Plate Reviewing Season for 2012 is drawing rapidly to a close. In the next few weeks you'll be hearing more from the four sponsors, as side by side with messages from them, we publish the last seven reviews.

Enjoy mystery wine writer Mark Mair's series of articles on the history of wine making in different parts of the world, and start building suspense for the 2012 awards, for we've seen some interesting developments.

Several former award winners have dropped a plate from five to four, to their chagrin, putting them out of the running for 2012's awards, so it will be very interesting to see who scoops the honours at the 2012 ceremony in the first quarter of next year.

Dropping from a five to a four plate rating continues to elicit a more woeful response from entrants than a thoroughly scathing review and much lower rating for restaurants who have so far not scored the hallowed top rating, demonstrating the perfectionism of those who are clearly striving for excellence year by year.

There remain quite a number of entrants who receive the same criticisms annually but fail to address them, begging the question, are they reading their reviews? These are not difficult to come by, being published in this widely-read Sunday paper, then, on The Cheeseman's very active website where they can be found year round and currently, dating back four years. To this site, The Cheeseman's Facebook page, introduced this year, is linked. In addition, there is a Zoap electronic newsletter every month, also launched this year, with links to all reviews carried out in that month, which goes out to all entrants and many other interested people besides.

On top of this, the Restaurant Guide itself is also published in The Cheeseman's popular newsletter Slice of Life, inaugurated a few months ago, and in the fortnightly Zimtrader magazine, which goes out in both hard and soft copy, and onto their website. With so many printed and electronic means by which to watch for a review, read it, take it on board and then address any criticisms before the next year's review, it appears still possible that some entrants are not reading their reviews each year.

Restaurateurs use reviews to up their game

There are lots of Zoap entrants who do take fully on board what is said in their reviews and address the issues, and for these, the competition is serving its purpose. Some even take the trouble to write in or phone up to garner further information, explanation and advice, so that they can improve their rating next time.

Zoap's review team has toughened its stance even more this year, becoming decidedly unforgiving, to the point where the management has had quite a number of conversations with individual reviewers, following harshly worded reviews and very much less than generous marking, to ensure that such criticisms were truly justified, in the interests of fairness and comparability across the board.

This is an important mediation, moderation and over-seeing role played by administrators and managers of a competition like this one, sponsored by suppliers to the trade who enter it, and hence, with their interests at heart and no desire to harm reputations or businesses, quite the reverse. However, with the system of anonymous reviewers and an unknown reviewing schedule, the idea is also to keep restaurateurs and their hardworking teams on their toes, not just until they've been reviewed for that year either.

The reviewers are never off-duty when eating out and other experiences are brought to the table during judging to identify annual award winners, especially when competition is neck and neck. They are also on the look-out for Service Personalities to nominate, year round, and anywhere they eat out.

Why the competition?

The purpose of the competition, of course, is to encourage entrants and their staff always to strive for high standards. No one likes to be criticised, and least of all, do entrants who have won accolades, awards and top ratings, like to slip just a little and lose that precious plate.

But as has often been stated here, at the awards ceremony and at briefing sessions for the trade, it is not the end of the world to slip from five plates (excellent) to four plates (very good) and it can and will happen at times to those whose names regularly appear on the finalists' list at year's end. Restaurant reviewing can never be pure science, and we humans, being what we are, all have our quirks, tastes, preferences, likes, dislikes, good moods, bad moods and fluctuating stress levels.

As with the Joe who dines out (and whom the reviews represent), these variables can possibly effect ratings and reviews, up to a certain point. So -- let's hope entrants watch for their reviews in the various media where they can be accessed, take feedback on board, address pertinent issues, and climb up the ratings -- because the purpose of the contest is not to bring them down, but to keep them always at peak performance, and bringing in the public to fill seats in their fine establishments!

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