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Why writing is a pleasure rather than a chore and how reviews can make or break a business

The Bar Man column, by Jeff Hoyle, Friday, October 18, 2019

Sometime while I was in secondary school, a strange thing happened. Instead of a blank piece of paper inducing a sense of terror, it became an opportunity.

Writing became a pleasure rather than a chore. I guess that when many people leave education, they rarely pick up a pen or tap a keyboard for anything other than essential tasks, but I started producing pieces for pretty much anybody who wanted them.

The Bar Man, by Jeff Hoyle, Friday, October 18, 2019
The Bar Man, by Jeff Hoyle, Friday, October 18, 2019

The school magazine, the Clavian which is worryingly still accessible on line, was my first published piece (and if you do look it up together with my exam results, note that I am ‘J’ not ‘G’.).

After that it was the occasional letter in the paper, regular contributions to Norfolk Nips and Cask Force, and for the past eight years, my Lynn News column.

If this is not enough, I spend far too much time on an American Q&A site and make lots of contributions to a well-known review site.

The attraction isn’t financial – I have earned precisely nothing from my many efforts. I like meaningless points, badges, up votes and the chance to add pins to my travel map, but essentially it is the chance to express myself.

If I have a rule in my writing, it is to be honest and polite. I earned my 200th badge on the review site recently and am closing in on one million views and I don’t think I have ever given a one-star rating and precious few two-star scores.

This, alas, is not a universal trait. An article published recently by the BBC recounts the experience of Charles Goodall who bought a derelict pub in County Durham with a view to developing it, and although it has never opened since 2011, it attracted a number of reviews complaining about poor service and substandard food.

The Bar Man on why writing is a pleasure
The Bar Man on why writing is a pleasure

It seems that this is not an isolated incident.

An analysis by the consumer magazine Which? of top hotels suggested that one in seven reviews bore the hallmarks of a fake. Perhaps this is a greater problem with well-known places, but on the other hand businesses that attract few reviews can be unduly influenced by one good or bad one.

For the reviewer this can be malicious or maybe just part of a game, but for the owner it can be the difference between success and failure.

A few poor reviews can break an enterprise, while high ratings can shoot it to the top of the rankings, and TripAdvisor has admitted removing 730 suspicious five-star ratings from an unnamed Middle Eastern Hotel.

It seems to me to be only fair to be honest with a pub or hotel before posting a critical review. Recently I went into a pub not too far from here and found that most of the beers on the bar were unavailable and a glance through the window revealed rats to be running around in the yard.

I felt that a phone call to the manager was a better option that posting a critical review describing a problem that might have been temporary.

When reading reviews checking out the credentials of the reviewer may be worth the effort. How many have they posted? What is their average score? A sole review of either one or five stars might set alarm bells ringing.

It might be strange advice from a writer, but don’t believe everything that you read.

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