Opinionated Abut Dining Survey

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March 24, 2008



While I agree with you regarding the food being likely equal, the service level that a recognized critic receives may be different from the common customers.


i think it's more likely that the head chef or maitre'd would scream 'VIP' and make sure that the dish is perfectly cooked and seasoned. let's be honest, a restaurant kitchen is a hectic place that puts enormous pressure on its staff--when you know you're cooking for a VIP you're going to make absolutely sure that the dish is as perfect as you can make it.

Steve Plotnicki

That's correct. But one has to take a look at what causes that to be the case which is something I hope to get into in a future post.


Another point to consider is that restaurant reviewers are kidding themselves if they think they are totally anonymous. There was an article in Gourmet magazine recently where a chef spilled the goods on what goes on in a restaurant kitchen when they think a reviewer is in house (and the lengths they go to look out for reviewers - faxing around descriptions and alias lists and even knowing the type of credit card they use).

I think it's almost worse if they think they are going incognito and they aren't, because then they may fail to take that into account when evaluating service, etc.

I say that food critics should focus on their knowledge and expertise of food and their writing skills. The internet provides plenty of opportunities for the anonymous "common man" diner to register their opinions of the food and service they received, which I think is a far scarier prospect for a restaurateur than the idea of a food critic sneaking in on the sly.

Andy Lynes

Here's a great example from the UK of how well the identity of reviewers (and in this case guide inspectors) are guarded from the restaurant industry


I think the larger point is feeling empowered as a diner to walk into a restaurant and through a dialogue with waitstaff, bar staff, sommelier, even chef, to elicit the best the restaurant has to offer. And that approach -- which I believe diners should take more -- is antithetical to the anonymous approach. I like Steve's posts because he teaches by example how to eat out better. You don't get that from the anonymous reviewer.


The article in Gourmet referred to by KT was by Dan Barber, who went on at length about the cartwheels they turned in the very early days of Blue Hill to make sure "F Holozubiac," who they were sure was Bruni, got the "perfect" meal, from seating to service to ingredients to execution. Of course, it turned out that Holozubiac was not Bruni, but it was revealing about the many, many ways that meals can differ depending on the perceived identity of the diner. It is not just $4 a pound veal vs. $5 a pound veal. But even on that one point, we know that some cuts are choicer and larger than others. What it comes down to is whether you are trying to get a "representative" meal that is the same as what the reader will get, or whether you are trying to give the the chef the opportunity to show you what his or her best work is, and evaluate that. They are two valid but different approaches.

MC Slim JB

With industry experience of my own to cite (waiter, bartender, host), I am certain that restaurants do go to extraordinary lengths to ensure that a known reviewer gets as perfect as possible a meal. (That doesn't go for food bloggers or self-professed posters to Chowhound). That doesn't mean the chef runs out to get better veal, but it does mean the critic gets the choicest cuts, the biggest berries (see Riechl in "Garlic adn Sapphires"), the most perfect plating, the best service. As a reviewer, you may think the resulting experience is wonderful and write it up as such; then one of your readers comes in off the street and gets the non-critic experience, and thinks you're an idiot for raving about the place.

That's the rationale I use in trying to maintain my anonymity in my occasional work as a freelance reviewer (I have a day job unrelated to the industry). I have no illusions about whether my anonymity will eventually be compromised, but in the meantime, I do believe there's value in not plastering my photo everywhere like that idiot Restaurant Girl in the NY Post (who is appalling for other reasons than her flagrant self-promotion). I still think it's worth attempting to avoid special "reviewer" treament.


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