Why We Assign Stars to Restaurants


The L.A. Times announced yesterday that, along with a slew of other dramatic changes to its food coverage, it will be doing away with its star ratings system for restaurant reviews. The debate that has sprung up in response reminds us of a similar conversation we had around the Los Angeles magazine offices a few years back when we debuted our own star system for the first time. Applying a quantified rubric to a very subjective, very nuanced dining experience is a decision that each publication must make for itself, and in our April 2008 75 Best Restaurants Issue we felt the need to explain ours. Here’s what we wrote then, and it’s how we still feel four years later:

What the Stars Mean (From the April, 2008 issue)

Los Angeles magazine has traditionally refrained from awarding stars to restaurants. We believed that it narrowed our options by influencing us to review restaurants based on a system rather than a sense of exploration. The result, though, was that readers sometimes didn’t know where we stood. In that moment we were failing in our duty to offer an interpretation of L.A. dining that was truly useful and up-to-date. So here we present our new star system. We think it puts perspective into opinion and grounds it in fact, and it will become a regular component of our monthly dining guide. We decided on a maximum of four stars—a number that offers a high degree of nuance without being murky. Because our goal is to provide a tool to those choosing where to eat, our criteria are practical. Does a restaurant offer a quality that justifies its price? Is it welcoming? Is its food such that we would return? The higher a restaurant rates in all three categories, the higher the number of stars it receives . We embrace this new system because it continues the magazine’s tradition of being the definitive guide to the city.
Besides, what’s L.A. without stars?

…what do you guys think?