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Revised star rating system


Please make note of a small but significant change in the star rating system we use at The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Now, restaurants with a one-star rating are recommended, even if they tend to be hit and miss. Restaurants with two-star ratings are more consistent, but best appreciated as a neighborhood option rather than a destination.

Why the change?

Because I feel that restaurants should earn the stars one by one based on merit rather than having stars assigned as a spot on the bell curve. If a restaurant is only fair or worse, then it makes sense to indicate this with a zero-star rating. I also believe this system helps us parse out the merits of neighborhood restaurants better, which will be a huge push in our dining coverage thanks to the team of reviewers coming on board soon.

The new rating system also helps us avoid grade inflation. We will be much more careful about assigning three, four and five stars and will hold restaurants at the top of the food chain to the highest expectations. In this light, a two-star restaurant might be a great neighborhood sandwich shop, or it might be an expensive bistro that doesn’t quite deliver the goods. It’s all about giving you advice about how to spend your time and money.

Let’s take a look at the star ratings and see where restaurants might fall:


This rating tells you the restaurant is recommended with caveats. It is best for people who live nearby and like the kind of food it offers. We will offer many suggestions about which dishes you should order, what time you should visit for the best service and how you can best spend your money to find value at this restaurant. Some restaurants that try to be destinations but don’t deliver a consistent product may earn one star. Today’s review of Veranda Greek Taverna earned one star.

2stars5 This rating tells you the restaurant is a solid choice in your neighborhood. You can count on good food and service as well as a clean setting. We predict you will be able to choose whatever appeals on the menu and have a good experience for a fair price. Higher end restaurants will earn two-star ratings if we feel their product doesn’t merit the prices charged or the restaurant doesn’t stand out from the crowd.

3stars5 This rating tells you the restaurant is a destination. In our opinion, it is worth your time and your money to visit this place if the description of it appeals. Some three-star restaurants will be modest cafes with extraordinary food. Others will be more upscale dining options that we heartily recommend if the price fits your budget. Three-star restaurants may be consistently very good or they may have flashes of brilliance.

4stars5 A four-star restaurant is best in class, whether it serves Southern farm-to-table cuisine, sushi, Italian or chef-driven creative fare. The service must be both correct and friendly, and the setting should be warm, exciting, plush — whatever it takes to make you happy to be there. The restaurant should have a beverage program that befits its excellent food, and every effort should be made to provide the glassware and table settings that add to the overall experience. There has to be a spark — surprise, magic, an outrageously delicious mouthful of food — to make the meal live in your memory.

5stars5 How do you go up from four stars? I think there are two things that make truly extraordinary restaurants stand out. They somehow define their environments to the extent that you better appreciate and know the city from having dined there. They are also so consistent that you never risk an “off night.” A five-star restaurant should make you feel like you’re floating on a cloud — that is, until you get the bill.

13 comments Add your comment

Sam Bruni

August 27th, 2010
10:29 am

Thank you JK, finally a real rating system like NYC, CHI or LA. Just need some real 3 star class restaurants in this one horse town. Tired of seeing restaurants blaming their crappy food or service because of an “off night”. If you’re a professional, there is no such thing as an off night. It’s like a surgeon botching your heart transplant because he had an off night. If you call yourself a chef and can’t cook consistently day in and day out, maybe you should go to medical school or better yet, a reality show.


August 27th, 2010
10:51 am

That makes a lot of sense, helping you pick out the restaurants that you want to go out of your way for, or which are just good enough if you around the corner.

jack trent

August 27th, 2010
12:07 pm

People who look to yelp and look at this will see that “1″ star is terrible. They don’t read the star rating system. We all know that “1″ star sucks.


August 27th, 2010
5:02 pm

Bravo! Thank heaven you are back, John!


August 27th, 2010
5:12 pm

Dear Jack Trent:

Get up on the wrong side of the bed?


August 27th, 2010
5:14 pm

In time, it will be interesting to see where the 3+ star restaurants tend to be concentrated. Since no one area has a predominance of the population everyone has to drive to get to the good stuff. Now let’s find the places worth the drive!


August 27th, 2010
5:44 pm

I like it… and I like your rationale/explanation… Sure there’ll be the Jack Trent’s of the world who won’t read the key and think that a 1 sucks but the rest of us will have a much clearer distinction as to what your opinions are regarding ATL’s restaurants.

John Kessler

August 27th, 2010
6:20 pm

Jack – We’ll train them.
Hotlanta – Exactly. That’s what it’s all about.


August 28th, 2010
9:04 am

I know what restaurants I think of as worth a pretty big drive, but I think I don’t know * all* those that are really way off my beaten path. I’m kind of West Midtown or Decatur if it’s really good. Live in Va Highland. But I don’t know those way north, say, that are worth a drive. I think the new stars will help me….

Ramona Clef

August 28th, 2010
4:34 pm

I like. Should help me find the sweet spot in the stars:dollars ratio.


August 29th, 2010
5:01 pm

I like the idea, but what about restaurants that were rated under the old system? Will you change their rating to be consistent, or list them as BRC (Before Rating Change)?

janet wyche

August 30th, 2010
11:00 am

John, where then would restaurants or food trucks that you don’t recommend fit/sit. I will tend to agree one must earn a star but if you give a no star review. Will it say no stars or just be blank? Could you republish your call out, please and thank you?

The Real Foodie

September 1st, 2010
1:38 pm

This is like the little league games where no one keeps score and everyone is a winner.