When it comes to restaurant review sites, everyone is a critic. But not everyone is trustworthy and oftentimes, on sites like Yelp, you don't even know who wrote the review you're "trusting." A two-star review could as easily have come from a bad dining experience as much as someone wanting to get back at a former lover who works in the kitchen. So if you're looking for more credible reviews from people who proudly display their name and face, then welcome to the Food Mafia.
"I once met someone at a random neighborhood bar in Paris that gave me the most amazing local restaurant recommendations for both Paris and Shanghai," said Food Mafia creator, Stacy Johnson, who also owns a corporate recruiting company. "I wasn't able to find any of those places in the guidebooks I bought and I couldn't find them online. I wanted to build a website that recreated that level of success when trying to find a new restaurant recommendation."
Food Mafia launched overnight in Chicago after months of beta testing and building up its initial network of reviewers, listed in categories of "Godfathers," "Goodfellas" and "Associates," and the more interaction you have with other members the higher you can move. But unlike Yelp and other sites, Food Mafia is for members only. You need to request admission—and get verified by the Food Mafia team—before you can start adding your two cents to the conversation.
The website also has attracted notable food industry folks, like restaurateurs Michael Kornick (MK, DMK) and Kevin Boehm (Boka, Girl & The Goat) and filmmaker George Motz (Hamburger America), who have written reviews, personal stories and, in the case of Motz, promoted his favorite burgers, including the Double MBurger at MBurger and the half-pound king size at Top Notch Beefburger.
Staying true to community, Food Mafia features deals at local restaurants, upcoming events around Chicago and pulls in news from local blogs through its own partner blog, Delicious Dirt.
Food Mafia members review sites through write-ups rather than through star ratings, so you get a better idea of how a particular restaurant fares. That information gets pulled into the Mafia Meter and is assigned a ranking through feedback. "Some of the more local and unknown restaurants will be considered on a more level playing field with some of the more well-known restaurants that have more popularity," Johnson added. "It isn't just about popularity, it really does focus on quality, credibility and member input."
Chicago is the first city to launch and Johnson plans to expand to other cities as well. Food Mafia already has nearly 2,000 Facebook fans in Chicago, with LA, the second city they're targeting, already logging 1,500 fans. San Francisco and New York will follow. "I think it is best to focus city by city where you can identify locals in the know that are passionate and can build that kind of database," Johnson said.