I put together a Yelp list of my regular dining rotation in Saratoga Springs, New York, and was embarrassed to discover I’d used the word “great” in almost every review although maybe never coming out and just saying “what a great meal”. This was painful because I pride myself on being very specific about my experiences.
Mine is a tourist town chock-a-block in restaurants most of which are decidedly not great. The dozen or less places I visit again and again rise above the average for a variety of reasons. There’s a burger place, a fine dining place, a couple of delis that craft generous and well-balanced sandwiches, an Italian bistro that makes a standout pizza with home-made mozz, and even a passable Thai/Japanese place (sadly, no Chinese). All are “great” in my eyes.
I think I’m using the word “great” as in “Alexander the Great”—to describe a consistency of performance over a span of time. It also recognizes that there are ways a place can be measured with identifiable levels of accomplishment. Excellent service, quality ingredients, imaginative recipes, superior execution of a familiar job like smoking meat are examples.
So what I need to do, and will do from now on, is spell out why an experience is great. That also tells a review reader my thought process to sync up with theirs. I like a nice setting, for example, but I’m not going to give a lot of points for it, so if that’s your “great” it may not be mine.
After this embarrassment I used the handy search function to your right to see if I was also sloppy with the use of “great” on this blog and it appears you guys are getting better work from me. In several cases I use “great” as I should, setting it up as a standard and then describing how a restaurant (15 Church), a sub and a bahn mi (which is not the same as a sub, as we know) can be great. But I also use “great” too liberally in describing an accompaniment (Annie Somerville’s couscous salad) and a bread base for sandwiches (my country style miche). So there’s work to be done.
P.S. While still in the mood for self-flagellation, I looked up occurrences of the vastly overused “amazing”. I’m happy to report there are far fewer of those than “great” and most of them are used correctly, as in a discovery or experience or stat that totally takes you by surprise. If you are very bored, use the handy search box and see what else I am or am not abusing.