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The Fiction of the Five-Star

Two months into my university experience abroad, I yearned for the taste of home. I was visiting London for reading week, and as I began the walk from my hotel to the British Museum, I typed ‘bagels near me’ into Google Maps, eager to consume a breakfast item that would potentially transport me back to New York and certainly quiet my grumbling stomach until lunch. I settled on a bagel shop in Soho with thousands of reviews averaging a rating of 4.8 stars. I ordered a toasted everything bagel with plain cream cheese, eagerly anticipating the wonderful feeling of lodging my teeth into the crispy shell encapsulating the doughy centre of a bagel with the perfect amount of cream cheese. My excitement dwindled as I unwrapped my bagel. The lump of bread with an insufficient amount of everything seasoning completely swallowed by cream cheese seemed to stare back at me, disappointed that it had fallen far below my expectations.


In the wake of my disappointment, I frantically scrolled through the reviews looking for one that would explain my poor experience and validate my anger towards the establishment. Although I found many one-star reviews left by customers who shared my frustration, I also found reviews from people expressing their excitement about their bagels in all caps, accompanied by images of bagels akin to mine. One of the reviews even likened their bagel to New York City bagels. As I departed the bagel shop, stomping through puddles pooling on the streets from the persistent rain, I contemplated the dependability of online reviews.  

Reviews are extremely helpful in distinguishing the excellent from the horrible, but I seldom see reviews of restaurants below four stars. So how are we supposed to know which restaurants deserve four stars and above? Assessing an establishment’s reviews based on personal preference is imperative. Instead of placing all your faith in an optimistic 4.8 stars as I did, read the reviews (instead of just looking at the star rating), look at the images that customers have posted, and evaluate the menu if time permits. The way something tastes isn’t always reflected in the way it looks, but for something like a bagel, looking at images can help you determine whether you will like the food. I could have easily avoided this bagel shop if I had taken a few minutes to compare the images posted to the bagels I typically enjoy consuming.


Additionally, it is important to take the restaurant’s goal and customer base into consideration. From my memory, the bagel shop was not trying to recreate a New York bagel, so ideally, I should not have instantly compared the bagel I received to its New York counterpart. Preferably, I should have considered the quality of the bagel in terms of other London bagels, trying different bagel shops throughout my trip. It is likely that the bagel shop serves primarily Londoners; thus, their bagels need to appeal to the palate of their main customer base. Catering to certain cultural preferences in food is understandable, especially considering that this bagel shop has gained impressive reviews by doing so.


After contemplating whether I should leave a scorching review, I decided to spare the bagel shop, mainly because I hadn’t taken a picture of my bagel for proof. In all seriousness, reflecting on the points I mentioned above made me realise that the bagel wasn’t horrible, but rather it didn’t align with my standards. In no way am I discrediting my personal preference to appease bagel consumers with opposing opinions, but I am accepting that I need to do extensive research on bagel shops to prevent any possibility of being disappointed. I think maybe it’s time to stop dwelling on the fact that I got a singular bagel that I was unhappy with nearly six months ago.

Illustration by Magdalena Yiacoumi

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