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The Great Debates Critiquing Restaurant

Reader Feedback:

It seems as though many of you are against the food critic. I have been educated in, and worked in the restaurant industry for years. As I am unable to go into a restaurant without critiquing it anyway, I have opted on several occasions to be paid as a reviewer.

I can say there are some of us who understand that things will happen. Before I will give a negative view, I will always visit an establishment twice. When unfavorable comments are made it is also necessary to explain why it is a problem, and if possible how to correct it. This is how writers establish credibility.

On this same issue those of you who have complained about inaccurate information in reviews, that should be unheard of. I am sure that every paper in the country would like to know if one of their writers was delivering incorrect information. They make their living on this same credibility.

For those of you who do not appreciate the actual writing or descriptive words used by the writer I say you must. When people read these reviews they are looking for places to dine, not just eat. I realize many chefs forget this, but those big ticket prices are not just for your creations. Would you like to take a date out to a place that you heard has exceptional food if it had cobwebs hanging from the ceiling. Additionally, I can assure you that a review that said A+ only would not give you the same kind of increased revenues as a descriptive article that captured the readers imagination.

Though hard to believe it is not my intention to defend the reviewer, (a word I prefer to critic) merely to make all of us realize that we may be judging them in the same manner we are complaining about.

Eric Oest

**Next Post

We so far, after being open for business 2 years, have had nothing but good reviews. But, what I have seen in the city, is a restaurant can be destroyed just by one review. I don't think this is right. Especially in our town most of the food critics have not even experienced the true cuisine. They never travel so what do they know. Our time is coming, but lets right back to the food critics with suggestions.


**Next Post

I would like to comment on the article which mentioned how some food critics go beyond the call of duty. My restaurant is only just over one year old. Stefano's Ristorante Italiano in Huntingdon Valley, PA.

We have had approximately six or seven write ups, all of which were wonderful. except, Craig Lebain from the Inquirer. I do not mean that he did not like our restaurant or the food, he got a bug up his butt about one of our waitstaff. the article which he wrote in 1999 included such things as "those delicious homemade pastas, the pillowy-light gnocchi and tasty savory meats, all prepared according to tradition and with care...there was nothing parsimonious about the calamari, a mountain of perfectly fried fresh squid. generous meat poultry and fish entrees came with good, fresh house salads, side vegetables and starch and were fairly priced. A west coast sea bass was nicely cooked and all the more delicious for its fresh tomato and white wine sauce...this restaurant is already off to an impressive start..

There are just a few of the wonderful things he pointed out about our restaurant. He even gave us 2 star rating. Our family has operated restaurants in this area for over fifty years including the infamous "San Marco Restaurant" on City Line avenue. We are not boasting, but we know great food.

My complaint is that Mr. Lebain was upset because when he tried to get a reservation at our restaurant, one of our waitstaff who answered the phone informed him that most saturday reservations were six to eight weeks in advance. This infuriated him because he thought he should have been given a table. We do not ask people who they are before we let them know if we have a table or not. We are not being selective in any way. We are a small restaurant with only 18 tables and when they are full, they are full.

I'm sorry to go on, but I am offended. At the end of the year, mr. Lebain published the best of the best. Only 24 restaurants received 2 bells and we were one of them. Mr. Lebain continues to say that some changes have been made at these restaurants. He contacted some of the reviewees in research for this end of year extravaganza. However, he never bothered to contact us and find out if our 'offensive waiter' (who was the star of our write up) was still employed by us. needless to say, he is not.

However, in nearly every one of the semi-articles he published from his yearly reviews had something of substance about the restaurant. Our's was 'the two month wait for weekend reservations may be a reflection on the fine-dining competition in lower montgomery county. Then again, Stefano's, the latest Italian from the Terra family (which helped run San Marco) has a lot to offer -- good food and a warm but fussily decorated dining room. occasionally brusque service is a turnoff. Reviewed April 4, 1999.

Can you please tell me what someone would get from this write up? Mr. Lebain is not an interior decorator. Every customer who comes through our doors comments on how beautiful our restaurant is. So, he doesn't like drapes with fringe, oh well then he shouldn't put them in his house. He barely mentions the 'good food' which in his article, he speaks highly of.

I do not understand why a 'food' critic needs to find one thing and harp on it. Tt doesn't matter what it is. In his recent review of Le Bec Fin, which he gives top of the line ratings, he could not help but harp on the fact that the waitstaff was only wearing suits now, instead of tuxedos. This change appalled him.

Perhaps I do not quite understand what his job responsibilities include. But, I was always taught that there is something nice to see, if you just look for it.

Does this man realize that he can absolutely destroy someone's business, not to mention their life, because of a callous remark that has nothing to do with the quality of the food or service of his latest victim.

On the other hand, Mr. John Bull, another critic from the same paper has different values. If he doesn't like something, at least he can bring his comments across in a kinder gentler way.

Colleen Terra

**Next Post

I just read the article by William Fox. In fairness, much of what he says has elements of truth. However, most of his comments are gross generalizations. My wife owns a very successful restaurant that has become successful only because of her perseverance and hard work. As an owner of a small restaurant, she is there 7 days a week, closing for less then a half dozen holidays during the year. A pet peeve of hers are customers that complain because "Mary" isn't there when they happen to show up. Mr. Fox's comment is equelly annoying. His comment advising customers to not patronize a place that the owner isn't on hand for obviously comes from someone that really doesn't understand the business. What is Mr. Fox really suggesting? Close the restaurant when the owner needs a day off?

I understand the spirit of the his comment. But it is sadly out of context.

- Thomas Wagner

**Next Post

In the instant digital world the glorious days of the invisible Restaurant, or Food Critic for the print media are dated, and becoming irrelevant. The changing needs of the audience make the gastronomically verbose critic, with false names, even disguises, something out of a bad Agatha Christie movie.

The speed of communications has resulted in the emergence of the Hospitality Critic, who evaluates the entire package presented to patrons.

The hybrid Critic/Consultant, with very public persona, will replace the anonymous poet of gastronomy. Gordon Ramsey is being heeded by audiences, and with the earlier antics of Rocco DiSpirito TV is showing millions of restaurant patrons what can be behind the scenes.

The new breed of critics often are guests of management, but unknown to the staff or diners, or when they will appear. They are there to examine, evaluate and help improve the industry, and the service to the public. Online, or broadcast, their factual descriptions are then compared to the many critique sites from Internet savvy diners. People now Google the restaurant or hotel name for information and feedback from patrons, not wade through a pile of old newspapers to find a review. The management needs the critics evaluation immediately, and again quickly to reexamine. Often owners request paid briefings for their staffs. Sorry gastronomic scribes, but that's the new iPod digital age!

Alan J Simpson
Broadcaster and Hospitality Critic

Your Turn:
If you've got something to say, we would love to hear from you. Please visit the Great Debates Feedback Page to send in your comments.

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