(Image credit: Courtesy Marilyn Hagerty)
The restaurant reviews on websites and in newspapers are often of a certain pedigree, describing meals that can cost a table for two over $200. It's easy to forget that outside the world of expensive restaurants and celebrity chefs, restaurant reviews are limitless and can include anything from McDonald's to Red Lobster.
Restaurant reviewer Marilyn Hagerty, 85, of the Grand Forks Herald in North Dakota reviewed her local Olive Garden, and her piece got more than 200,000 views online. The newspaper's most popular story by far, it was 10 times more popular than their next-most-read story, and was shared over 20,000 times on Facebook and over 14,000 times on Twitter.
"Yesterday morning the phone started ringing and messages started going up, and I had no clue what it was all about. These people were making fun of me…and then I thought, so what?" said Hagerty.
"My son told me that it had gone viral but I didn't know what that meant. It's been like a three ring circus over here ever since," she said.
With a population of about 55,000, the town of Grand Forks was buzzing about the arrival of the Olive Garden. "It was like the second coming of Christ," Hagerty said. "People were so revved up. Olive Garden was coming to town. Olive Garden was waited-for so long, and it was so welcome."
She added, "There were more conversations around the bridge games and baseball fields than about any other restaurant than I remember."
Hagerty went to the restaurant once for the review and paid for it out of her own pocket. Her review describes the location in detail: "The place is impressive. It's fashioned in Tuscan farmhouse style with a welcoming entryway. There is seating for those who are waiting."
Her descriptions of what she experienced at the restaurant touched a lot of readers in America, "At length, I asked my server what she would recommend. She suggested chicken Alfredo, and I went with that. Instead of the raspberry lemonade she suggested, I drank water."
The response to her story hasn't been completely positive: someone sent an email calling her "pathetic." She replied, "Thank you for your comments, and I appreciate your note."
"Then all of a sudden these messages began getting so friendly and so positive and so reassuring. I haven't had time to go on Facebook," said Hagerty.
Some suggest that her review was negative, and Hagerty doesn't deny it: "Well, my readers read between the lines. When I describe the ambiance they say it was a bad review, when I describe the food more they say I like the food. It was to acknowledge that the long wait was over."
A writer of five columns on different subjects, she isn't fazed by her sudden fame. "I had to finish my Sunday column … and get the guest room vacuumed," she said. "I still don't get it. I don't care. It is what it is."
Readers who are fans of Hagerty's work can keep an eye out for her next review, she said. "I've already done the column for next week on the Drunken Noodle."