Authenticity in Online Ethnic Restaurant Reviews



Over grilled cheese sandwiches at a brew-pub on the Upper East Side of Manhattan, a friend and I discussed our favorite topic— eating. Up for debate this lunch time was a new app she was using, Foursquare. She explained that the review-driven app allowed users to rate restaurants on a multitude of factors like “Good for Dates” and “Free Wi-Fi.” We reviewed our current restaurant to explore how it worked: “Good for Kids?” Sure. “Vegetarian Friendly?” Not really. “Authentic?” Skip. I asked her to slow down. What does authentic mean in this context? Can we really trust average users to rate what is authentic or not? And how do I judge the authenticity of my grilled cheese sandwich?

Authenticity is everywhere. Pundits claim that millennials crave it (Jubenville 2016), restaurants boast “authentic dinning experiences,” and Foursquare asks us to make judgments about it. These claims, often used to connote quality, are used by eaters and restauranteurs alike. Restauranteurs often use authenticity to evoke a homespun or far away romanticism, and consequentially, as eaters, the authentic is something we are taught to seek and crave.  As omnivorousness becomes a growing indicator of cultural capital (Bourdieu 1986) especially in the middle class (Ray 2016), eaters assess quality of food and dinning not only on traditional characteristics of flavor and atmosphere, but also on difference and uniqueness. But what does authenticity in food really mean? And why has it become a key thing we look for when choosing ethnic dining experiences?