In my experience, the review did cause a noticeable increase in business following its the appearance in the publication. However, I feel there are also added benefits to a review that may not be seen by the general public.
First, several members of the staff will visit the restaurant in preparation of a review. Most of these staff members write for the Food Section of the publication or they are freelancers for other publications. The exposure gained with these visits generally lead to top of mind awareness for these writers. They will contact a chef who has made an impression for information on other articles they are writing which will lead to additional coverage.
Second, reviews lead to awareness among the general public for the chefs, as well as the restaurants. Favorable reviews can also increase the attendance for events at the restaurant or a charitable event that the chef is a participant.
I have been in the restaurant business for 15 years. I have had many reviews during that time. At least once a year. As a member of the kitchen team it was always nice to get a good review. Everyone works very hard and most members of a kitchen have great pride in what they produce. When we have received a not so good review I have tried to use it to motivate my staff to get better. A bad review can show a weak spot that must be dealt with.
Overall the only problem I have with this system is there are no real guidelines to be followed. Is the 4 stars that the new Mexican restaurant got the same as the 4 stars the Ritz got. I am not ripping the Mexican restaurant at all...I think if they do a great job of being a Mexican restaurant they deserve 4 stars, the reviewer needs to qualify his or her statements.
A restaurant critic should, if he/she wishes to be objective and democratic, know first-hand as much as possible about the context of his/her restaurant experiences. That is, to understand how a professional kitchen operates (when it is staffed and managed well, or poorly), to understand how dining room service operates (same), and to fully appreciate the many and various stresses that affect food service. A professional restaurant succeeds or fails in large part on its ability to execute well under these stresses.
Of course, a well managed restaurant, in order to execute to a level that one could call "professional", must spend money to properly staff and train, and this expense must be realized from the customers wallet. It is the role of the critic to evaluate the value of their trade of money for the dining experience in a given establishment. In other words...you can't rip somebody for not providing top-notch execution of food and service in a place that offers meatloaf, chicken, and grits for $4.95, and conversely, if you are paying $24.00 for "Creme de Pomme de Terre avec Oesetra Caviar", it better be served hot (or cold in some cases - the caviar better not be hot!), beautiful, perfectly crafted, on time, and according to the style of the restaurant. If the critic experiences something that is over and above an expected value (real hospitality), it should be noted in the review as this is what separates the "great" from the "good".
Subjectivity and opinion are important faculties of the critic, but the ability to e-VALUE-ate is foremost, and this is what I'd like to see more of in the papers.
Personally, I look forward to restaurant reviews that appear in my local Philadelphia newspapers. However, I feel like I have to scan through the first six paragraphs of the review just to get to the food and the service. I like ambience just as much as the next person, however, I want to know about the food and the service. I've had great food in shabby places but I've also had bad food in some upscale restaurants. I'm not really interested in knowing if the rosey hue in the wallpaper compliments the border of the linen napkins placed on my table. I want to know if my waiter can suggest a nice cabernet to compliment my steak
It's as if the restaurant reviewer can't break away from writing that Great American Novel he or she is writing. I try not to give too much importance to reviews. To be quite honest, I typically look for reviews of new restaurants just to satisfy my curiosity.
Thanks for listening.
Restaurant reviews are nothing more than the personal, subjective opinion of one person who may or may not have the background/experience to call him/herself a "critic." As such, this type of "journalism" has no place in a newspaper. What surprises me most is that any editor would allow something so subjective to get printed. A bad review won't close a restaurant (if it does, it was probably one of many different factors) but it certainly can take a bite out of sales. Restaurants that receive poor reviews should demand a retraction or at least equal space to respond.
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