Everyone is a critic. Whether it is art, sport, fashion or food – we all like to think we can do better. But unlike many other professions, the restaurateur is constantly being compared, constantly scored, scrutinised and reviewed. Guests – and others – can write anything they like on social media sites like TripAdvisor and Zomato.
By Jeremy Ryland
It sounds like fun – but reviewing restaurants is not easy. One cannot just simply eat and enjoy as most diners. No, the restaurant reviewer has to dissect the meal and determine what went into it, how it was cooked, what went wrong and how it might be improved.
The professional restaurant reviewer is usually qualified – a chef, a sommelier, a food scientist. To understand how well a dish is made one must know how to make it – just as a music critic knows how to sing or play an instrument. It is necessary to understand the culinary arts and be able to distinguish an error from lack of skill or carelessness.
Today, there are many sources of food and dining reviews. In addition to the more traditional newspaper reviews and guidebooks, there are thousands of blogs, user websites such as Yelp, Trip Advisor, Dimmi and chat sites. These sites are important as they represent what the general diners are thinking. Perception is reality. But reality is often an illusion. We are all different. We all have different likes and dislikes. As Brillat Savarin said, “Tell me what you eat and I’ll tell you who you are”, reflecting our cultural diversity.
A restaurant critic must be impartial, attempting to review the food and the experience without bias or favour. Everyone is different – some people cannot taste bitter, others do not like sweet and some hate salt. Some people will not eat offal or spicy food. Some like milk and dairy, whilst others find it rich and sickly. One man’s meat is another’s poison. A professional reviewer must put aside his prejudices and his mood swings. Food tastes different if you’ve just spent 55 minutes looking for a parking spot or you are out to dinner with your boss rather than a lover.
And to be a true critic one must be anonymous. Many reviewers relish in their “importance” and make it known that they are there. Other guides publish the names of the contributors in the back pages – which restaurants can then enter onto their databases. Like a chameleon, the true critic blends into the environment to simply observe and report.
Reviewing restaurants is not easy – but it is fun and important. Our goal is to support the restaurant industry by highlighting the good and the great. Good food brings people together and our role is to guide guests to the good food. Enjoy!