(Updated July 2015) Now I don't know about you but don't you hate it when you try out a new restaurant and come out disappointed? Or when you're traveling and don't know where to go to eat? There's something just wrong about wasting money on a bad meal so I definitely rely on online resources to help guide me. The quantity and quality of information that you can find online always amazes me and it's no different when it comes to eating out. I rely heavily on my personal network to find me great new spots, but the reach of online boards and communities like Yelp, Urbanspoon and Chowhound can be really useful.
While I have been food blogging for a while, it all started with reading and writing online reviews on Citysearch. Over time I grew a bit jaded with Citysearch (way too many fake reviews) and found that Yelp was a much better resource, especially when traveling. I have a rule about trying not to eat at hotel restaurants so finding good local restaurants was always a challenge and Yelp was consistently great at getting me to the right eats. Yelp really makes you feel like a local and insider which is foodie awesomeness! Both the website and app are a nice mix of reviews and social networking, giving you the option of passively finding information or throwing questions out to the community. The audience is skewed a bit younger, more single and towards a more urban setting which is helpful in my preferences. And while Yelp peeps are mostly helpful, there is some level of online snarkiness depending on the urban hub, but Raleigh-Durham is relatively free of sarcasm and condescension. The breadth and range of businesses and pictures on Yelp are fantastic, a great treasure trove of info that's hard to find elsewhere. Overall it's still the best restaurant resource I have if you're willing to filter out reviewers with different interests. Another huge plus for Yelp is that they don't only review restaurants but other small businesses like doctors, auto mechanics and more.
I also rely on Urbanspoon (Note: Urbanspoon is now Zomato.com as of June 2015) a bit which is similar to Yelp but focused solely on restaurants and dining. Recently I just made "Urban Prime" which is similar to Yelp Elite and allows me to make edits/changes on my own, very cool! Urbanspoon gives you a mix of diner reviews, bloggers and professional reviewers which is nice. They also give you a thumbs up or down for a quick snapshot rating. From my experience, the diners on Urbanspoon are skewed a bit more towards suburban and young married couples. People who are active socially but not quite as hip as Yelp. Not a bad thing. And the social networking part of Urbanspoon is limited, you can add friends but there isn't much in the way of interaction which limits snarkiness. Overall a solid resource but doesn't quite have the reach and breadth of Yelp.
The last online resource I rely on is Chowhound and there are reasons why it's last. It's focus is on message boards so it's really all about social networking and interaction. There are no business listings and little in the way of pictures which means limited details and usefulness. The audience on Chowhound skews a bit older, I'd say the average age is 35 - 50. What's that mean? Sometimes it means great experience and other times it means a heavier emphasis on old people restaurants, i.e. classics with good service and a more conservative ambiance. But there are people here who have turned me on to very small, ethnic eateries that fall off the Yelp and Urbanspoon radar screen which is good. The other challenge I see is the message board format. Very Web 1.0 and the interaction means you do get some chest-pounding online and snarkiness. People I would call food snobs, because in the end, I don't think money or price guarantees a great meal. I limit my interactions here because I find there's an old-school obnoxious component that I'm not fond of and yeah, I've had a couple of run-in's which is usually rare for me. Also due to the format, the same questions are often repeated which is relatively useless. Overall Chowhound is ok if you mine the information properly but I'm not a huge fan of the format.
So there you go, some great online resources for foodies and diners alike! Take all my statements with a grain of salt, it's just one person's opinion. But I've included some demographic info on each board below from Quantcast which gives you an idea of the crowd on each board. And the reality is there is some overlap. You'll see one person on multiple boards if they're a serious foodie which is sorta cool. I'm always appreciative of any insight and while I'm glad you're here reading my food blog, there are always other resources you should hit up for the most accurate guidance for your dining dollars. Rock on Yelp, Urbanspoon and Chowhound because you know what? Even if you're not perfect, you're free and you can't beat the price of free advice!