After reviewing restaurants for several years, I’ve collected some of my best advice for new and experienced restaurant reviewers. Here are five of the most important things to do and five of the worst gaffes a reviewer can make.
1. Obviously you need a big appetite and a stomach of steel, but it’s more important to realize that a restaurant is a business. There are many jobs at stake in each place you review so names for restaurants treat your job seriously and be extremely ethical. Do not give rave reviews when they are not warranted but neither should you use your reviewer status to show off
your own expertise or to make fun of the individuals that work there just because you’ve found a clever turn of phrase.
2. Learn to memorize enormous amounts of information – dish names, ingredients, flavors, colors, prices, décor, and quality of service. With practice, you can learn to memorize six meals of four courses without having to run off to the restroom to take notes on each taste of each dish. This will mean you will miss out on some of the conversation as you run through the dishes in your mind, but eating out is now a job for you, so the social aspects of it take a back seat. Learning to keep all the bits and pieces of your dining experience in your mind will help keep you anonymous as the food critic.
3. Gather up tools that will help you be successful. A cell phone that takes photos, small notebooks and pens or pencils, a copy of the menu downloaded from the restaurant’s website, and a digital recorder will keep your reviews sharp, focused and honest. Use your cell phone to pretend you are taking photos of your guests for a special occasion. Place a small recorder under the edge of your plate and speak about the menu or your meals with your guests. These will provide memory triggers for you when you sit down to write.
4. Call ahead to get the days and hours the restaurant is open. Do this several weeks ahead of your visit, and have a chat with the person taking your reservation or helping you with information. Ask about special needs that potential diners might have. Just don’t be so obvious that they become suspicious that you are the critic.
5. Study food so that you know what you are talking about. If you read a lot of restaurant reviews like I do, you will soon see that many are clueless. “The sauce tasted like it was a sauce made of soy,” “The flaming goat cheese was made of feta cheese but was not Goat Cheese.” These are real quotes that make the authors seem unqualified for the job of reviewing restaurants. The sauce was either soy sauce or it wasn’t; goat cheese is not a brand name but rather cheese made from goat’s milk. Never stop studying, cooking and tasting food from around the world so you know what it is and how it should be prepared.