Court Orders “Tabelog” Food Review Site to Pay Damages to Store due to “Unjust” Algorithm | FRIDAY DIGITAL

Court Orders “Tabelog” Food Review Site to Pay Damages to Store due to “Unjust” Algorithm

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Transparency and Fairness of Gourmet Sites

The Tokyo District Court has ordered the operator of gourmet food website “Tabelog” to pay an amount of 38.4 million yen in damages to a Korean barbecue chain in a trial, inferring that its rating algorithm is unfair for chain outlets.

In addition to the previous problem of restaurants paying more for monthly listing plans and customer service fees being displayed at the top of the list, the trial also exposed the lack of transparency in the evaluations of the sites. What do food experts think of the ratings of the various gourmet sites?

FRIDAY Digital asked a number of food professionals for interviews and other purposes, to rate each of the gourmet food websites.

The algorithm (calculation method) of the evaluation scores was unusually disclosed in this trial. How far will the “emphasis on transparency and fairness” be upheld?
  • Questionnaire items
  • (1) Please rate the following gourmet websites on a 5-point scale.
  • Google Maps / Gurunavi / Tabelog / Hot Pepper / Retty (in alphabetical order)
  • (2) Please let us know if there are any other sites other than the above that deserve special mention.
  • (3) Please tell us the reason for your evaluation of each site.
  • (4) Please tell us what you refer to when looking for a restaurant.
  • (5) What do you think about the court decision that “changing the algorithm evaluation of Tabelog is a violation of the Antimonopoly Law”?


Rikiya Yamaji (food journalist and ramen critic)

Author of “Yahoo! News Personal” / Author of “Tokyo Nostalgic Ramen” and other books / loves “food where you can see the maker’s face” and thinks about “why the food is delicious” while working in various media including TV, magazines, and websites.

⇒Rikiya Yamaji’s official website Click here for the official website of Rikiya Yamaji.


  1. Evaluation of each gourmet site
  • Google Maps: 4.5
  • Gurunavi: 3
  • Tabelog: 3.5
  • Hot Pepper: 3
  • Retty: 4
  1. Other notable sites not listed above
  • Hitosara: 3.5
  1. Reasons for evaluation

Google Maps has a smooth transition from map to restaurant information, and the search is intuitive on the same screen. While the number of stores listed and the database as collective knowledge are valuable, the literacy of the user side is questioned. Gurunavi and Hot Pepper are valuable for reservations and coupons, etc. Hitosara is unique and interesting in its focus on food rather than restaurants.

  1. Daily reference

Google Maps, Retty, and Tabelog. However, I only read the restaurant data (address, hours of operation on holidays) and rarely read reviews.

  1. Thoughts on the “Tabelog” Trial

In March 2020, the Fair Trade Commission published a report on its investigation into the actual state of transactions, and summarized its opinion that “it is right to ensure transparency in the rules” regarding the scoring and evaluation rankings of the restaurants listed on the site, and pointed out that there was a risk of violating the Antimonopoly Law if the restaurant was unfairly judged. There were two points that were groundbreaking in this trial. The first was that a violation of the Antimonopoly Law was found against the site’s operational regulations. The other was the disclosure of the “black box” algorithm of “Tabelog” during the trial. I believe that the court decision was also meant to serve as a warning to similar gourmet food websites.

Shigeru Nekota (Gourmet Writer)

Born in 1979, Mr. Shigeru Nekota has been active for more than 20 years in a wide range of fields, including editing gourmet magazines, writing gourmet articles, and producing recipe books. He is a writer who loves all kinds of restaurants under the motto, “You must love both good and not-so-good restaurants”. Shigeru Nekota’s food blog “I love restaurants with strong tastes!”

⇒Click here for Shigeru Nekota’s food blog “I love restaurants with strong tastes! is here.


1) Ratings of each gourmet site

  • Google Maps: 2.5
  • Gurunavi: 3.6
  • Tabelog: 4.0
  • Hot Pepper: 3.4
  • Retty: 2.6

(2) Other notable sites not listed above

Hitosara: 3.8

Reason for evaluation

I would have to rely on the “Tabelog,” which has a large number of restaurant listings. Google Maps sometimes has outstanding comments from foreigners, which makes me wonder the reason why (laughs). Hitosara has an introduction stance that focuses on the chef, so it is useful when looking for high class restaurants.

(3) What I refer to on a daily basis

I live in Osaka, so I guess it would be “Amakara Techo,” a gourmet information magazine for the Kansai region (laughs). All the restaurants are listed after the editorial department conducts an undercover investigation by pretending to be a customer. Then there are the Facebook group posts. I’ve seen group posts like “Report on the best restaurants in Hyogo” or “Tenma Tenjin Gourmet”.

5) Thoughts on the “Tabelog” Trial

The government has recognized that media in which customers post what they like without permission influences business profits. I feel that it has reaffirmed how much Japanese people depend on other people’s evaluations and how much they do not have their own yardstick. Even if the evaluation criteria were made transparent, it would still be difficult to judge a restaurant by its score. There are customers who are rude to the restaurant themselves, but give it a low score because of the “bad attitude” of the waiter. There are many gourmet writers who say they can tell whether a restaurant is good or not by looking at the food photos, and I would like to be one of them.

Rio Hiraiwa (sweets journalist)

After working in marketing, she studied at a confectionery school. She eats confectioneries in Japan and abroad and provides information on them. She is active in a wide range of activities, including product development support and lectures. She is also a “Otoriyose Net” expert, a ranking judge for “Nikkei Newspaper,” and a writer for Yahoo! She is the chairman of the “Happy Cake Republic” information website.

⇒Click here for the “Happy Cake Republic ” information website.


(1) Evaluation of each gourmet site

  • Google Maps: 4
  • Gurunavi: 3
  • Tabelog: 3
  • Hot Pepper: 3
  • Retty: 3

(2) Other notable sites not listed above

Hitosara: 4

(3) Reasons for evaluation

Google Maps is convenient for route searches as well. Other gourmet sites are used to look up maps and phone numbers, but in my case, I never choose a restaurant based on scores. Especially in the case of pastry stores, I never use the reservation function, and I am more certain to check the store’s Instagram or Twitter to see what’s new or what’s open for business. When looking for a nearby restaurant in a new town, posted images are helpful, but reviews are only informative. Real name reviews by professional chefs, such as those on Hitosara, are more reliable than anonymous reviews.

(4) Daily reference

Referrals from acquaintances through Instagram and Facebook.

(5) Thoughts on the “Tabelog” Trial

Many people choose a restaurant based on its score on the “Tabelog,” and if they assume that a restaurant has a low rating because it is a chain restaurant and change the algorithm without permission, I think it is a natural reaction that the restaurant is not satisfied. And if it is arbitrary and not applied to all chain restaurants, it would be even worse. When I serve as a judge for competitions, the score evaluation criteria are clear, and I can explain them when asked. I would like to see a site where stores can use the reviews to notice areas for improvement and help raise the bar.

What are the evaluations of general users?

According to the “Survey on Gourmet Websites” conducted by TableCheck last April, targeting 1,100 men and women in their 20s to 60s, about 30% of respondents said they did not trust the scores and rankings displayed on gourmet websites. In addition, the survey found that Google Maps, which does not seem to be discernible in the site-by-site evaluation, has increased in the number of searches.

The number of respondents who “do not trust much” and “do not trust at all” increased 2.4 points from the survey conducted a year ago (TableCheck survey).
The survey results show a shift to “Google Maps” and “Web search” for finding restaurants (TableCheck survey).While Nekota’s answer about how Japanese people do not have their own yardstick is painful to hear, it seems that users also have doubts about the ranking. Gourmet food sites offer many convenient features such as points and reservations. The bottom line is about how you use it.
  • Interview and text Chimasa Ide

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