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Public Editor Public editor: The Globe’s rating systems explained

Eastside Social, reviewed by The Globe and Mail’s Chris Nuttall-Smith, received one and half stars.

Danielle Matar/The Globe and Mail

A reader wrote to us this week confused about the star rating system used in The Globe and Mail. "The number of stars at the top of the Leslieville restaurant review – this has to be an error. Only 1.5 stars? That's NOT a recommendation. Yet the story seems to be saying it's a good place to eat. Sounds like it should be at least 2, if not 3."

There is no mistake in this star rating, but I understand her confusion in part because this is a fairly new rating system for restaurants, and The Globe uses a slightly different standard for film and theatre reviews.

The review by Chris Nuttall-Smith is quite positive, but not on everything. Here's how he sums up the experience: "It's a good restaurant, a neighbourhood one, a beautiful (and be forewarned, occasionally deafening) room with all-pro service, a friendly feeling about it and a culinary conservatism that's appropriate to place and time. Does the cooking get my heart racing? Not even close to it. But if I lived in the area, I'd probably be there twice a week."

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Now if this was a film review, it would probably have two stars rather than one and a half, which is perhaps why the reader believed there was an error.

Mr. Nuttall-Smith said that when he started as The Globe's food writer and reviewer a few years ago, "we introduced stars with a clear explanation of what they mean: No stars means not recommended, one is good, two is very good, three is excellent and four stars (I've only found two four-star restaurants in the city so far) is extraordinary, original, one-of-a-kind, etc. A key ran in the print edition for a good year after we introduced the star system.

"We introduced the star system the way it is for two reasons. The first one is practical: That's how credible restaurant criticism's star systems work. The New York Times, Eater, Michelin (with a top score of three stars, but same point), The Chicago Tribune, Bloomberg – the organizations that diners and readers trust the most for restaurant criticism – all follow a one-star-is-good system. The second reason is philosophical. Why should a mediocre or bad restaurant I would never recommend to friends or even strangers merit one or two stars? By making one star the bedrock and saving four (and three and two – those are pretty great ratings too) for the very best places in the city, we leave no doubt in readers' minds where places stand."

This makes sense to me and I understand why there is no room for the explanation every week in the newspaper on the reviews, but there should be something online that the readers can see to better explain. This explanation was included until quite recently and I think it should return online:

• No stars: Not recommended.

• One star: Good, but won't blow a lot of minds.

• Two stars: Very good, with some standout qualities.

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• Three stars: Excellent, with few caveats, if any.

• Four stars: Extraordinary, with near-perfect execution.

Since you are probably wondering, here are the two reviews of the restaurants Mr. Nuttall-Smith think are near-perfect: Edulis and Momofuku Shoto.

The system for non-restaurant reviews is somewhat different.

Arts Editor Jared Bland said: "We use zero as terrible, four as great, and assume people know the sliding scale within intuitively. We use that for album reviews and film reviews and theatre reviews. I often wonder if we should use them for classical or opera reviews as well."

In my view, the various rating systems do not need to be the same, but there should be an explanation somewhere online for the reviews. And as always it is more important to read the review to understand what a restaurant, film or play is like rather than the star system, which does not really give you all that much information.

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