What do you look for when choosing a restaurant? What's new and trendy? What a friend recommends? Or what comes with the seal of approval of a food critic or industry organisation?
This week, The Consumer Show delves into the world of restaurant awards and recommendations and learns that while most are based on the personal approval of a food critic or writer, the plaque displayed outside the door usually comes at a cost to the restaurant, if they choose to put one up.
Reporter Tadhg Enright said: "In some cases once a critic has been to try the food, he or she may follow up with an invitation to purchase a plaque to hang outside to highlight the good review."
Our investigation shows that such plaques can cost anything from ¤100 to ¤400 depending on which food award or recommendation a restaurant is invited to display.
Pearse O'Sullivan, owner of The Bulman near Kinsale understands the value to his business: "If you have tourists walking by and they see the plaque which says 'best in Ireland' they think we should go in there and have a look. They're all important if they can put bums on seats."
When new Dublin restaurateur, Simon Keegan, opened the doors of The Hot Stove in January with his business partner to rave reviews, he was not prepared for all the invitations to join up to websites and listings. He estimates that if he bought into all the invitations he had received so far this year, it would cost him up to ¤2000. It's not a path he is planning on going down.
"I'm not into buying our way into recognition. Our chef genuinely wants to put out great food; we try to give good service in comfortable surroundings. Get the basics right and people will come and tell their friends."
The concept began with the world renowned Michelin Guide whose awards and listings are given at no cost to winning eateries. Ireland's first home grown recommendations were established by food critics Georgina Campbell, as well as John & Sally McKenna more than 20 years ago. Since then a plethora of other awards, listings and reviews have come on the scene, as Ireland's love affair with food and dining grew.
John McKenna, founder and owner of McKenna's Guides (formerly known as The Bridgestone Guide) says that it can be confusing for consumers, when they don't always know what all the plaques mean and the criteria behind awarding them: "I see plaques outside people's doors and I don't know who they're from, I don't know what the organisation is.
"I think it is confusing, genuinely, because you don't know the criteria upon which those restaurants are allowed to display those plaques".
For now, the best advice for consumers is to know who and what is behind that plaque behind the wall and be aware that not all restaurants put up plaques, even if they have received a positive review or an award.
"The business model behind the plaques should be clear," advises Irish Times journalist and food writer Catherine Cleary.
"I've seen signs outside restaurants where I know the food is not very good, saying 'award-winning food'. I'm not sure the industry is giving a very clear message to consumers by having such a large number of awards. I don't think it's very helpful."
Robert Doggett, owner of Trocadero Restaurant in Dublin, joined Keelin on The Consumer Show couch to explain why they didn't subscribe to these restaurant awards. Robert feels there are so many awards out there that it can be quite confusing, and could also cost the restaurateur quite a bit of money. Robert's preference would be to read a review online or in a newspaper, or get a word-of-mouth review from someone who has direct experience of the restaurant.
Click Here for all Statements & Responses on Restaurant Awards