Ben Leventhal, founder of Eater.com and one of New York’s most eligible bachelors, has a new toy to occupy his time. It’s Feast, a food-blog that he’s spearheading with NBC Local Media. The selling point of the project (when it’s working, that is) is Feast Rank, which scores restaurants from 1-100 based on all available online reviews.
It’s been a buggy system, based on some early reports, but that hasn’t stopped NBC from launching the blog and ranking system in other cities, including Chicago and Los Angeles. This afternoon, Feast will debut in D.C. It will be edited locally by Rachel Tepper and Y&H contributor Melissa McCart.
McCart tells Y&H that Feast D.C. will be updated five times a day with videos, news items, interviews, photo galleries, and lots of lists, including one on where to eat tonight. Feast D.C. is scheduled to launch around 1 p.m. today, and Y&H is already getting nervous about the competition.
Of course, some early critics (as critics are wont to do) have already crapped all over the Feast ranking feature, saying it’s both hard to find and of little more use than Yelp. Check out these comments from a BlackBook article:
However, to some, Rank doesn’t deliver. “The base idea is fantastic. It’s experimental, its new, its ownable and represents an interesting and proprietary way to garner interest and create content out of things that are already happening anyway,” says Tom Ajello, Creative Director of Poke, an interactive and design agency in New York. “The problem is,” says Ajello, “The Feast Rank feature is buried, impossible to decipher once you find it, and not iconically or creatively represented in a way that will engage people.”
Rank does give food-obsessed New Yorkers one more thing to obsess and argue over — and of course, complain about. And one thing they seem to agree on complaining about is the word chosen to represent the top ranked restaurants: “Epic” — sounding as much like the rallying cry of Psi U as it does a taste discrimination — has been the target of much scorn. Also there are some bugs in the ranking system and apparently kinks to work out in the algorithm that compiles ratings and buzz to generate Feast Rank (though, these things tend to improve over time). Instead of offering a unified voice, the Feast Rank ratings are, at least at this point in the launch, slip-shod and inconsistent.
“It seems like a supremely bad idea,” says Jonathan Gold, the former New York critic for Gourmet magazine who went West to LA and on to become the first food writer to win a Pulitzer Prize for criticism. “Real-time samplings of a thousand half-formed opinions are useful to political pollsters, but not necessarily to somebody trying to figure out whether it’s going to be Motorino or Maialino after the show. It’s hard to see why it would be any more reliable than Yelp or Citysearch, which to me are most useful when it, because you can follow specific commenters, functions most like a regular review.”