Concerns With Restaurant Poll

RECEIVED Tue., May 22, 2012

Dear Editor,
    I think the Chronicle Restaurant Poll would be far more meaningful if you would print vote totals beside each restaurant listed in the results issue. The results in many areas are, to say the least, curious. It would make a big difference in judging the value of a ranking whether the winner received, say, nine votes or 500 votes. It would also help to explain the statistical anomaly that more than 16% of the winners were listed as ties. This is only believable if there is a very small sampling of voters, or if the magazine is manipulating the results. I have heard comments from several people in the food and beverage industry that the Chronicle "revises" the results to achieve advertising or other subjective aims. Publishing totals would confirm or debunk this theory held by many.
    Another interesting note is the selection of Ace Manning and Carter Wilsford at Péché as “Best Mixologist.” First, please call them bartenders. They themselves will tell you that the term "mixologist" is pretentious and offensive to a good bartender. Second, Ace Manning has not worked at Péché for more than a year and Carter Wilsford for more than eight months. Surely all the people who voted for them, who know them and Péché, would not have been unaware of this fact and listed them as at Péché. (By the way, I am not disputing that they deserved the honor. Both are among the very best bartenders in Austin.) It appears to be merely a regurgitation of previous year's results, not a current voters' selection. This alone makes me doubt all the other published results as being authentic.
Richard Wehmeier
   [Virginia B. Wood replies: Neither Special Issues Editor Kate X Messer nor I have anything to do with the advertising side of the Chronicle business and they do not have any input in the editorial side. However, looking at the restaurant ad portfolio represented in the weekly paper alongside the list of winners, my questions to Mr. Wehmeier would be this: If we were manipulating the data in favor of advertisers, wouldn't more of our regular advertisers be among the winners? And what other "subjective aims" could we possibly have?
Special Issues Editor Kate Messer replies: Ballot stuffing has been a problem with all polls at
The Austin Chronicle – whether it be for the Music Poll in March, the Restaurant Poll, or our annual “Best of Austin” issue – for as long as I have been tabulating. We do not publish concrete poll data or vote totals due to how that can influence ballot stuffing. In the case of ties, some poll categories receive four-digit vote totals and others as low as two-digit. Ties are determined on a scale relative to that. In some cases, ties are exact numerical ties and in other cases, the number of votes fall within single-digit differences and are called ties due to the total number of votes cast. While I concede that objectivity is a goal and subjectivity plays a role, I wish it were as simple as just revising "the results to achieve advertising or other subjective aims." It would make my job a lot easier and certainly more fun and profitable. Regarding the "Best Mixologist" category: We have published an "Oops" in this issue addressing that clerical error. Péché did indeed win again, and Mssrs. Manning and Wilsford did indeed receive votes. However, I did not receive confirmation in my attempts at fact checking. I am solely responsible for that error. I intended to replace their names with "everyone at," as the bar received numerous votes under a variety of names. I did not follow through with that final step and sorely regret and apologize for my mistake.]
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