5 Ways Bloggers Changed Restaurant Reviewing

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Does opinion still matter? Yes. (Photo by Stuart Miles.)

Now that the New York Times’ latest restaurant critic, Sam Sifton, has moved on, the hand wringing begins anew about whether career food critics are doomed because of Yelp and food bloggers.

Let’s ask a different question. How have food bloggers changed restaurant reviewing? Here’s what I see as the biggest shifts:

1. Food bloggers don’t wait to review. In the old days, reviewers waited a month or so for the restaurant to get its groove. Bloggers figure that if they’re open for business, they’re fair game.

I like this approach. It implies there’s no cozy relationship between the two. Except that sometimes, there is. See No. 2.

2. Restaurants have opening events for bloggers. Print reviewers go to restaurants undercover and hope not to be recognized. They have expense accounts or get reimbursed as freelancers, whereas most bloggers write for free, as a hobby. So restaurants pay for them to come sample a meal. The cozy relationship is back.

3. Bloggers are more likely to cover an event than to review the food. Cover means “I went there and this is what I had,” versus. reviewing, which requires opinions about the food. At a poorly-attended panel on restaurant reviewing I attended recently (everyone was next door at a molecular gastronomy demo), a blogger said she doesn’t write reviews because her trips to restaurants are comped, as that would be a conflict of interest. Instead, she writes about the event of eating a meal.

Does less reviewing by bloggers have something to do with their confidence in generating opinions? Perhaps. Josh Osersky made that argument in Time magazine. “The current crop of food writers, at least the online ones, are a cacophony of dazzled novices, opining confidently in an intellectual vacuum,” he says.

4. Blog write-ups are more positive than print reviews. Another blogger at the aforementioned restaurant reviewing panel said that she doesn’t write anything at all if she doesn’t like the food.

The idea about “not saying anything at all if you can’t say anything nice” is not new. Your mother probably told you that. But it is not that relevant in restaurant reviewing, since most restaurants are neither horrible or stupendous, but somewhere between. (Except in the case of these food bloggers, who got duped. They were served frozen food and videotaped, without their knowledge, so some of them outed the organizers.)

“Mostly good” is the norm that qualifies for a restaurant review, because it allows critics to write the pros and cons while still recommending the place. Bloggers, however, are more prone to puff pieces, with gushing headlines such as “Yet another fabulous meal at [Restaurant]” and “[Restaurant], Will You Marry Me?”

5. Bloggers celebrate all kinds of restaurants, not just fine dining. They write about food trucks, joints, far-flung meals in monasteries, underground dinners, and tons of topics most traditional reviewers won’t touch. Perhaps that’s one of the reasons why some newspapers have added reviews of less expensive places.

So, some of these five trends are positive, and some, for me, are problematic. What do you think?

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  1. says

    nice piece, once again. I review restaurants…but not very often. Don’t feel “qualified” to evaluate food with my palate. I do like to write only positive and mostly positive and some room for improvement. Really I just want to be the first word of word-of-mouth. With my blog being a vegetarian blog, my readers might want to know where the best veggie breakfast taco is or where can i get a vegetarian Pho?

    But, when i’m curious about a restaurant, I am not interested in whether the person commenting has a PhD in Palate Satiation, you know? I just want to “hear about” a place. Even if it’s an on-the-fence review, i want to be the tie-breaker. My food requirements are very different from a food critic, I’m sure…so that’s why I prefer bloggers. Also, you get to understand the voice behind a blogger and have an idea if this blogger could be a friend of yours. Whereas, a food critic is more of a distant relationship…so you don’t know if you have common food interests/preferences.

    good or bad…for the public, i think good. for restaurants, mostly good. for food critics, not so good. but just the side effect of an evolving technology.

    as my mom says, when one window closes, another is about to open. there’s a chapter before this and a chapter after this..

    • diannejacob says

      So for you, Amee, the most important thing is to be first with the news, not to write or read an exposition based on the palate. You prefer a more informal read with a lot of voice to it. And you feel that a big reviewer does not necessarily represent you. Fascinating! Thanks for sharing this.

      • amee says

        Yes. My response was not as concise or organized. :) i also wanted to add that i review “incognito” also. A comp’d meal would be nice but not how i would like to do things. Also, i doubt my opinion is the majority!!

        • says

          I completely identify with what you’re saying, Amee. I feel like a my blog is an extension of word of mouth. I’m giving recommendations of places I think are great. I will say if I don’t like something, but I won’t review somewhere I think is hideous.

          This is also because I’ll go somewhere I’ve heard is good, and usually it is. Then I am passing that fact on to others through my blog. My focus is coffee, so basically I’m answering the question ‘Where’s a great place to get coffee?’ and I know a lot of places. For me, I don’t see the point in telling people where to get disgusting coffee, but, who knows, there could be a blog in that…

  2. says

    I respect Richman as a writer and an eater, but I do take exception to his statement in the TIME article that I am a “dazzled novice”. Sure, I don’t eat at every 3 (or even 2 or 1) star Michelin restaurant around. But I have been eating for a long time and I know what I like.

    Let him go to places no normal eater can go, or travel the world in search of the best [insert food here]. There are a lot of “mostly good’ food joints where I am that will never be covered in his magazine. I want to tell my readers about them.

    • diannejacob says

      That is a sensible strategy, Nate, because few people are doing it, and because he is compensated for his meals and travels, whereas you are not!

  3. says

    Like always Dianne, you bring food for thought to the table.
    I write a personal/food blog and have recently started to add reviews of restaurants (and a few other things) to my repertoire.

    I felt that I had to ‘validate’ myself by making the statement that I am more than qualified to give my two cents on a restaurant because of the following reasons:

    I have owned and operated my own restaurant
    I have worked in the restaurant industry for (almost) 25 years
    I married a chef (16 yrs ago)
    and to further my qualifications I am now back in college earning a (4yrs) degree in Creative Writing.

    These are my rules when reviewing a restaurant:

    1. We dine incognito. Always.
    2. We never (ever) ever accept anything for free. I have always questioned (even the great Gael Greenes of the world) that if they had to shell out the big bucks from their own purse, would the review ring to the same tune?
    3. We try to be very fair and highlight the good in addition to alerting our readers to the bad, or the ugly.

    The economist had an article (fairly recent) about bloggers v’s food critics/writers. I have a link to it on my blog. http://www.wisewords.ie/index.php/2011/08/aniar-restaurant/

    Excellent article, I will share it on the Irish Food Bloggers website.


    • diannejacob says

      Thank you, Mona. No question that you have the qualifications to write reviews, and you know the rules for ethical behavior. Seems like it is an almost old-fashioned approach.

      Thanks so much for alerting me to the Economist’s article about how bloggers vs. critics review. Love it. I just posted it to my WWFF Facebook page.

  4. says

    There is a reason why I have a category in my blog called “Not a Review”. I don’t go to restaurants to review them, but I do write about what I like and what I didn’t. While I’ve attended my share of food events in the past, I prefer to write about the place or food about my experience on a regular day.

    Also, there is a tendency of everyone reviewing the same place, particularly if they were all invited to the same event. If the blogger is new, or doesn’t have much writing experience, you can bet the text is going to be pretty bland. That’s what I love with reviews in publications like NYT. The play on words and the writing style is hard to emulate without sound pretentious or silly.

    • diannejacob says

      Oh dear, I’m confused. If you write about what you like and what you didn’t, how is that not a review? And if you write about your experience, that is what reviewers do as well.

      Good point that the writers in the big publications are pros at wordplay, leads, using similes and metaphors, etc. It’s always fun to read a good review, regardless if you’ll ever visit the place. That was one of the highest compliments I got from readers when I reviewed, that they enjoyed the writing.

      • says

        Hmm, good point. A review is essentially a person’s opinion about something. I guess when I say it’s not really a review it’s because I think it doesn’t fall into the same category as the reviews that I admire, which are, as I mentioned, the ones that are well-written. Since the way I write it isn’t really up to par as those, I don’t really consider them as a review. But I guess it is. :)

  5. says

    I try to write restaurant reviews, mainly in Dublin, Ireland. It’s quite challenging and I am aware that I don’t carry the gravitas of a professional food critic. I follow the writings of many professional critics and I study their work in an effort to find my own voice and style.

    I’ve been invited to a few events by a PR company, but this is always clearly highlighted in the interests of disclosure. I try to be honest in my reviews, pointing out the good, the bad and the ugly. I really apreciate comments left on my blog and I take the feedback on board. It’s the only way that I can get better at this :)

    • diannejacob says

      Sounds like you are doing everything right, Joanne — studying the pros and being honest about the food. Perhaps the other thing to focus on is developing the palate, if you want to emulate classic reviews.

  6. says

    Interesting. This doesn’t line up with my personal experience (although I’m sure it could be true for bloggers in larger cities).

    1. One is lucky to get a table the first few weeks of an opening.

    2. This trend hasn’t hit our area yet. I meet with a group of bloggers once a month, and we are lucky if we get the room comped at the restaurant where we meet!

    3. How do you review a restaurant without reviewing the food? Interesting concept. As for a vacuum . . . with Yelp and other social location marketing tools I always check to see what people are saying so I can compare notes.

    4. I’m not rude about it, but is the service is poor and the food lacking I say so. As do most of the other area bloggers I read.

    5. This one is true – there isn’t much “fine dining” in our city and anyway, why not explore all the options?

    • diannejacob says

      Wow. Thanks, Wendy, for the reality check. I guess not every city has restaurants that seek out bloggers for comped meals, eh?

      Re not reviewing, that’s when you say you went to a restaurant and ate a few dishes. There is no critique. It is about the event itself.

  7. says

    I’m more into creating recipes than writing about restaurants these days, but I still do a post every now and then on my dining out experiences.

    I always go as a regular paying customer. In some cases when I’m in doubt on their stance on people going around taking lots of photos, I ask if I can take photos and the food blogger thing is brought up, but no fuss is made.

    My last restaurant post was a super positive one, but I’ve written about places which gave me mixed feelings. Admittedly, I’ve never written about a place I thoroughly hated or felt completely ambivalent towards.

    My thoughts in general? Personally, I still read pieces by traditional media, but their style can sometimes be just a little too clinical, and they usually only come accompanied with one photograph. I take more heed to blogs and casual reviews like on Urbanspoon and Yelp when I’m sussing out a place. I also much prefer reading reviews where the food was paid for by the reviewer and where it wasn’t a special event, as I prefer genuine experiences I can relate to. Basically, I think we’re spoilt for choice today in regards to our resources and that’s not a bad thing! We just need to pick and choose carefully.

    • diannejacob says

      We definitely are spoiled, I agree. If readers don’t like a traditional review they can go online and see what others say about the place– and see a lot more photographs, as you point out. It’s nice that the restaurant staff doesn’t comp you because you brought out your camera. I was with someone at a restaurant once and that’s what happened. It made me uncomfortable.

      Re ambivalent feelings, that would probably be a good review, if you could sort them out and come to some kind of a conclusion. It’s the grey area that makes reviews more satisfying to read. Most of the time, critics don’t bother with all negative reviews, unless it’s a super-expensive place that has failed miserably and deserves to be outed.

  8. says

    I like the distinction between “cover” and “review”. I read what a critic says about a restaurant, especially if I am planning on going there, but I give even more weight to fellow bloggers and sites like urbanspoon – kind of the “every person” opinion.

    As a blogger, I love to cover events and I love to eat at restaurants and offer my own review and opinions of a restaurant but I look at this as kind of a function of my blog – look what I did, here is what I ate and liked or did not like, etc. – I do not take comps on those meals.

    I also do not mind a cozy relationship (without strings) – is that naive? lol. I like attending opening events and tasting parties to share what kind of food to expect from a restaurant. I cover it the same way as if I paid for it and I make it very clear that I was invited.

    Since it is my blog, I can write about the foods that I like – I don’t have to go to a Korean restaurant if I don’t like Korean food. And my dining and eating habits are the same as years ago before I had a blog :) – now I just take more pictures.

    • diannejacob says

      Interesting that you prefer the “every person” opinion to that of a professional critic. Is it because you feel the critic doesn’t represent you? Typically the critics are older than most bloggers, and they’re traditional journalists who have migrated to that section of the paper or magazine.

      Attending opening events is fun. I’m not suggesting that people who write about restaurants not go. They’re not traditional critics, who are supposed to avoid these kinds of things because they should not be recognized by restaurant people. And it sounds like you are honest about the events on your blog. That’s what matters.

  9. says

    This post really resonates. I rarely do restaurant reviews, but I do review products on my blog — and I rarely do a negative review. I try to find something I liked (even if it’s the packaging, cost, availability) and pass on writing the review at all if all I want to say is “Yuck!”

    • diannejacob says

      That sounds reasonable. Every once in a while, throw in a “yuck.” It does wonders for your credibility as a product reviewer.

  10. says

    I personally think there is a role for both the professional critic/reviewer and the many excellent bloggers who write reviews of restaurants. I enjoy reading both. They are different animals.

    The beauty of the explosion in food blogging is that we can now read about a wealth of different eating experiences from a myriad of sources. I think this makes the food scene richer.

  11. says

    My blog has long been a place to share recipes and photos of the foods I prepare for friends and family. Only recently have I found myself invited to participate in events that I may (or may not) write about after the fact.

    I don’t think of myself as a food critic nor do I think myself qualified to present myself as one. Despite years of preparing foods for people I love, I feel that without more formal training or experience in the food world I would be hard pressed to consider myself skilled in the nuances that would allow me to do a review and impact the opinions of others. That being said, I read all reviews with a grain of salt…I find most critics are too critical!

    I love seeing Mona qualify herself; it makes me wonder about the critics in my town. After meeting a group of them, it seems they are more writers that are foodies but not food people who can write…huge difference in my mind.

    I’ll continue to ‘cover’ restaurant events (heading to one today releasing their new appetizer menu as a matter of fact) but always with the caveat that what I say is not a review as much as a report of an event.

    • diannejacob says

      Most restaurant critics do not come from the food world, and they shouldn’t. They are supposed to represent the customer, not the chef. So you are right that they are writers who are obsessed food, not chefs who have learned to write.

      That being said, they are supposed to be knowledgeable. Ex. don’t criticize the restaurant for using a cheaper cut of meat in a dish, if that’s what’s supposed to be in it.

      If you are more comfortable with a report of an event, that is your right. You don’t have to write a serious review.

  12. says

    “Dazzled novices”….spot on, I think. An awful lot of crud passes for food writing these days. I’m all for the democratization of food writing and the end to the all-powerful critic, but I’m not going to regularly read/follow someone’s writing unless they’re interesting and authoritative/accurate. The accuracy part drives me crazy: so many bloggers don’t fact-check, don’t understand what they’re eating, and they do NO research. If you’re unsure what sort of cured meat was in a dish, ask. If you don’t know how to spell it, look it up. Intellectual laziness has caused me to “unsubscribe”, repeatedly.

    Currently, I’m bored to tears with bloggers who participate in a scheduled book launch by cooking/photographing/describing dishes from said book: while it might be interesting for a single post, I don’t want to read a week’s worth of posts on the same damn book by six different bloggers. Yawn. Such blatant PR flogging makes me distrust their opinions on other topics as well.

    Thanks for stimulating the conversation, Dianne.

    • diannejacob says

      Celeste, you do not suffer fools! Yes, I agree, education has to be a part of writing about food. Take classes, read classic cookbooks, etc. so that you can write knowledgeably about the food. It helped me a great deal when I was a restaurant reviewer, especially when eating food that was unfamiliar to me.

      Don’t even get me started on the book launch stuff. I’ve put off writing about it because it makes me so mad!

    • says

      Completely agree on both points. Neither kind of post is a service to readers; both would work better as personal diary entries. Which is fine, but there’s no reason someone else should be interested in reading it.

      That said, I have no problem with bloggers reviewing restaurants after visiting once (as long as it’s clear from the review). Anyway, my tastes in food do not align with those of any professional critic in my region.

  13. Jeanne says

    I think that the blog world that has a policy of only writing good reviews (and remaining silent on the bad foods/places) reinforces the need for professional reviewers who go incognito and do good and bad reviews.

    Also, Celeste: what you dismiss as random PR flogging is actually known as a “virtual book tour.” Since publishers do not pay for book tours anymore, cookbook authors need to come up with creative ways to reach folks who they normally would reach by visiting different cities/towns. What you describe is a recommended way of doing this. You will be seeing me doing it when my book comes out in Fall 2012 :).

    • diannejacob says

      Jeanne, yes. Only good reviews get boring after a while. I like to read about the grey area.

      Re book launches, certainly authors have to know how to promote their books to bloggers. She’s talking about the requirements that some publishers lay out.

      • says

        I’m all for authors promoting books to bloggers. What I don’t want to read is a whole slew of regional bloggers all reviewing the SAME book at the SAME time, multiple times in a week. To the bloggers who participate in such coordinated launches, are you truly independent voices if a PR person can determine your content for an entire week? This “coordinated launch” stuff is booorrrrriiiinnnngg. I don’t care if 5 of you all cooked out of the same book for a week, I don’t want to read about it. You didn’t organically discover the book & develop an appreciation for it: you got a free book (and perhaps some other inducements?) and someone TOLD you to write about it. Of course, not a single negative word (or word of analysis, I might add) emerges from these coordinated launches.

        I’m looking to blogs for new, interesting voices and information I can’t find elsewhere–not to read 6th-grade book reports or undigested, unchallenged public relations content.

  14. says

    Another difference — food bloggers might have one meal, many restaurant reviewers eat several times and try many more dishes or the same dish on different days.
    I see less difference between a blogger review and that of a paper or media outlet whose reviewer eats just one meal — which is more common in smaller media markets.

    As a blogger, I rarely write about restaurant meals since I feel I can’t do them justice, but I will occassionally write about the experience I had and the dishes I ate that night, always clarifying it is not a formal review.

    I do have an issue with those (bloggers, yelpers, etc) who 1. don’t get the concept behind a restaurant and complain their expectations were not met (that a self service neighorhood joint didn’t have attentive service, for example) 2. don’t understand the cuisine and its flavor profiles and standard dishes and or 3. have issues with something and take it out in a review rather than trying to resolve it with the business first and then writing about that whole interaction. I believe we should give businesses a chance to rectify something that might have been a one of — something we can’t know if we only go once.

    One more point – most bloggers I read don’t write “puff” pieces, although there is a basis towards the positive. I think its because most bloggers might select popular places since most of us are paying our own way most of the time so we might seek out “better” restaurants. For me, it’s also a time thing — I’m ALWAYS behind on writing up posts, and often don’t want to bother with the negative.

    If it is a sponsored meal or event — aren’t there disclosure rules that need to be followed?

  15. says

    Interesting – I don’t write reviews of restaurants (but I do write food product reviews) – when I’m checking out a restaurant online, I prefer to see what bloggers say – since I myself don’t have a “professional palate” I would rather hear/ see what folks like me have to say. It doesn’t matter to me if they went once or 50x – consistency is important, so the food should be good any day of the week (especially if the place is expensive). I also check out more than one review (of anything), so I can usually discard the person who is writing positive things because their meal got comped. At the end of the day – it’s just food – I basically want to know if the place was sanitary, how expensive is the food, and if it’s decent.

  16. says

    Given the fact I am a simple eater and don’t care for too much fuss during a meal, I tend to find most reviews from critics to be loaded with nothing but pompous nonsense. You’re much more likely to find me dining at a food truck serving tacos and cold soda than you’ll find me at an establishment like Mon Ami Gabi in Las Vegas.

    As such, I’m more apt to read blogs that are more casual in nature. Since I switched gears and stopped writing about food (I really have no business doing so to be honest) there is rarely a post on blog about food. If there is, it’s more about the experience itself or a brief overview of my thoughts on something rather than an entire post dedicated to the food.

    I will say I think both professional, experienced, and knowledge food critics as well as bloggers have their respective places. The critics seem to care little for the experience itself whereas bloggers bring a voice and a human aspect to the experience. As a result, some critics are up in arms wallowing in their $50 bottle of Merlot because bloggers are allegedly stepping on their turf and not providing top notch writing. Those who kvetch about bloggers have two choices: You can either pipe down and learn to adapt or you can keep whining and look like a sore loser who isn’t getting their way.

    • diannejacob says

      Not sure I agree with you, Kim. I read plenty of restaurant reviewers who have voice by the pound: Jonathan Gold and Alan Richman are two good examples. They are good at self-deprication, so they bring a human aspect to their writing. Both have blogs, so they have learned to adapt.

      That being said, if their writing is not your style, that’s fine. Gold is a connoisseur of street food such as tacos, though. You should check him out.

      • says

        I’ll freely admit that the reason I think as such is simply because I have not exposed myself to enough critics to make a non-critical assessment (open mouth, insert foot). I’ll have to look up Gold and Richman.

        I’m sure there are plenty of brilliant critics who bring a good voice to food writing. I apparently haven’t read enough to see that.

  17. says

    As a restaurant blogger for the website of a major paper (I write a daily restaurant news column), I’m the gal there on opening night. However, my articles are generally of the quick, newsy, “hey, this place is open, this is what they serve” genre, as the publication has a full time critic who sticks to the old-school protocols and will go anonymously a few weeks after the place has been open.

    If I can avoid the restaurant opening events geared at bloggers I do, unless I’m desperate for a photo or face time with the chef to fill out my piece. On my own site, I use the visit to offer an unbiased account of my experience – if I have a crappy meal, I generally will still cover it for the paper (because I’m really just presenting the facts and not an opinion), but won’t include it on my own site.

    When I ran an online food news magazine, we made a point of differentiating “reviews” (always anonymous, no freebies accepted) with “profiles” which were more open, included events or promotions and usually an interview with the chef, owner, etc.

    I adamantly agree with Celeste – much of what brings down the quality of blogger reviews compared to professional critics is the lack of knowledge about the food, and generally poor writing skills. I never read sites like Yelp, but instead defer to the many food critics in my city, many of whom have been doing their jobs for 10 – 25 years and who have backgrounds in both food and journalism.

    • diannejacob says

      Okay, this is what I was talking about, where you go cover a place, vs. review it. Thank you. There is definitely a difference between this kind of writing and reviews.

      Re bloggers, there are all kinds of skill levels. Yes, some write poorly and have no palate, but others are quite skilled.

  18. sally says

    As always, so insightful and interesting to read everyones comments. I rarely read professional food critic reviews, nor do I write restaurant reviews on my blog. When I occasionally read one, it’s with grain of salt. Sometimes they seem negative, picky, and my heart goes out to the restauranteur (ok so I’m a chef).

    Professional critics often sound pretty high and mighty to me. Some of their negativity about bloggers might be sour grapes, feeling their elite position is being challenged. There is still room for both. You get different viewpoints, and that’s good. It’s a spectrum.

    I do like the fact that bloggers review all kinds of restaurants. How else would you find out about a good little hole in the wall place in your own area? It’s like a friend telling you about what they discovered, and it’s current.

    We are more likely to look at online resources (Gayot, TripAdvisor) for what average people are saying about their experience, especially when we are traveling and doing advanced planning for dining options. I also keep an eye out for magazine and news paper articles and keep notes for future travel plans. That’s how we found some great restaurants in Rome last year.

    Having said all of this, we rarely eat out and should more, just to get out. We have a few favorite places. So often when eating out, my husband looks at me and says, yours is better, so why are we paying for this?

    • diannejacob says

      I agree that there’s room for both. The bigger reviewers cover more expensive places because that is the old model, when going out was a big event, usually for a birthday, anniversary or date, so you had to know what you were getting for your money. Bloggers can be more casual.

      I look at TripAdvisor as well, although mostly for reviews. I look on Yelp, but sometimes you have to wade through a lot of crap to get an idea about the restaurant.

  19. says

    Chicago is lucky to have it’s own foodie site, LTHForum.com. I can’t speak to other sites, but I’ve found that LTH has accountability that reviewers don’t have. If somebody writes up “[Restaurant] will you marry me,” five more people will go, and write scathing retorts if it isn’t up to snuff…or even if it is. You’re likely to get a lot of opposing viewpoints that make it easier to suss out whether you will like a place or not.

    Do people really read the comments posted after a pro reviewer writes about a place? I don’t think they have the same weight a food community offers.

    • diannejacob says

      Depends who the reviewer is. Some have huge online followings.

      I’ve seen the Chicago site, and agree that you are lucky to have it.

  20. says

    I try to be as objective as possible and not let the piece get too puffy or too negative unless it is deservedly so. I also try to write about the event and/or the food. I think that is the great thing about being a “novice” food blogger. You can write about any aspect of the experience you want. If you can’t form an opinion about one, you can write about the other. However, with so much “noise” out there in the blog-o-sphere, I don’t think that established, “freelance” or “professional” food/restaurant critics need to worry. I think they will still be the authority when it comes to a review making or breaking a place.

    • diannejacob says

      That is a rare occurrence these days, apparently. Critics don’t have the power they once had, because of blogs, websites and Yelp. And that is a good thing, to my mind. One critic shouldn’t control the success of a restaurant, based on what he/she says.

      It’s true that you can write about anything you want. Your readers will decide if your advice or reports are worth following. And if you just want to express yourself, you might not care.

  21. says

    It seems to me that food bloggers have changed the face of restaurant reviewing enormously. While a few food writers here in Australia still wield significant influence, they are no longer the only resource for diners, many of whom will now look at other sources of information about potential dining experiences before making their decisions.
    Certainly, there are the food blogging puff pieces here, too, but here are also plenty of well known bloggers who write restaurant reviews in a considered and responsible fashion.
    I’ve tried to avoid restaurant reviewing in my writing and, if I am invited to opening functions, try to write the ‘back story’ behind the chef or establishment instead. A recent exception to this for me was when I was commissioned by the Mushroom Growers Association to write about mushroom meals. In that instance I tried to focus on the variety of meals that were available using mushrooms, rather than critiquing the meals themselves.

    • diannejacob says

      That is a good point, that traditional critics are no longer the sole resource for people. Should have put that on the list! Thanks, Amanda.

      If you were commissioned to write about meals, that is a different thing altogether. That is a sponsored post.

  22. says

    I have accepted comped meals, as evidenced by posts on my blog, and I felt like it was fun to be asked and made me feel important. This post has made me think twice about it. Often my empathy is on the side of the restaurant, as a food-lover, and I don’t mind helping out when I can if I think a restaurant’s worth it. However, I can be brutally honest when need be, if I think the public needs to know the shortcomings of a pricey restaurant. I will never forget Ruth Reichl’s recounting of Cipriani in “Garlic & Sapphires.” A lousy, overpriced restaurant that got rave reviews in Zagatt’s for some bizarre reason.

    I still think we require professional food reviewers. I didn’t know about Sam Sifton and am saddened, I enjoyed his Q&A column and his insightful, amusing restaurant reviews. I hope this is just a blip and not an indication of the demise of restaurant critics.

    On my own part, I will rethink my reviewing of comped meals. It’s a small town that I live in, and it is also hard to remain anonymous. The entire system needs reexamining, and if the end result is only reviewing restaurant meals on my own tab, I have a strong feeling that everyone will be better off.

    • diannejacob says

      Hi Rose, thanks for thinking about it. If your sympathy is on the side of the restaurant, you are not representing your readers. Your job, from my standpoint, is to tell readers if the place is worth their time and money. Otherwise, if they do not think you are writing in their best interests, they will go away. It’s also not sufficient to write a story that just says “Look what a great time I had,” because people don’t want it to be all about you. They want it to be all about them.

      End of lecture. I’m not saying you do any of these things. You just got me going on a rant.

      Most of the time, there is no need to brutal. Reichl’s review was an exception. It sure made delightful reading, though!

      Many critics who have been reviewing for years in small towns — even in big ones — love to tell themselves that it’s fine to go to restaurant openings and to be recognized and patronized by the restaurant. One reviewer I spoke to says she even asks them to donate food and serve at her annual fundraiser! I just don’t agree. But I do understand their dilemma. At least half the time, even when critics disguise themselves, someone at the restaurant recognizes them.

      • says

        I feel the need to clarify when I say I am empathizing with the restaurants. I find a lot of diners in my area to be unadventurous, not to sound snobbish, but it’s true. We had a wonderful Vietnamese restaurant close in N. Brunswick, and another restaurant, Hon Sushi, is also struggling in an area that has a packed Olive Garden, Hooters and Houlihan’s. I do feel a responsibility to let folks know how good this food is. However, I would never mislead anyone. I have a difficult time with dishonesty. And any time I’ve been comped a meal, I say so in my post, as required by the new legislation. Anyway, thanks for your post, it was interesting, but I generally don’t do restaurant reviews that often.

        • diannejacob says

          I see what you’re saying. You have to decide whom you’re writing to. I think you probably do not want to target the people who eat at Hooters. So it makes sense that you don’t do reviews that often.

  23. says

    I disagree with number four, at least from my perspective. In Australia, if you write a negative review and it negatively impacts on a business, you can be sued for defamation. This is regardless of whether what you said about the restaurant was true or not. So restaurant reviews here are very positive overall, whereas you look at somewhere like the UK and their defamation/libel laws are quite different so they have the freedom to write a more negative review if they choose to.

    And while I agree that food bloggers go to a lot of events and parties, food journos go to a heap of launches too.

    Thanks for stimulating the debate!

    • says

      I am glad you mentioned this – I was just going to ask if the reason bloggers tend to write positive reviews is because of the possible repercussions of a negative review. Would be curious to know the legalities of this aspect in different countries.

    • diannejacob says

      Wow, I did not know that. That’s scary! Yes, many food writers who are not bloggers go to launches too. And they have the same cozy relationship. Thanks for pointing it out.

  24. says

    It’s like anything else in life – there’s a fine balance that needs to be struck between both types of reviews. Successful bloggers have cultivated relationships with their readers largely based on what it coming out of their mouths. That relationship is founded largely on trust and respect. That’s not to say their aren’t other reasons to follow a blog, but a reader can very quickly be turned off to a blog/blogger because of a violation of that trust. I don’t read blog because I want a sales pitch or because I want to win something free everyday. I read it because there is value in it for me – information, entertainment, comfort…

    A restaurant review is an extension of that same trust. If I like/repsect a blogger, and they write about an experience they had scarfing down the “best steak” they’ve ever eaten, I might file that away in the back of my mind irregardless of how well written the review is, IF I feel the review is genuine. However, that being said, I’ve not come across a single blogger who has Ruth Reichl’s ability to make you feel like you’re sitting at the table eating that food and having that experiene with her.

    The interesting part really comes down to the target audience. As a blogger, I know who is reading my blog and based on comments and emails, I know why they are reading it. They’re not reading it because I’m in culinary school or any other crazy thing; they’re reading it because they can relate to the fact that I’m a Navy wife, mother of three, and share common food styles and interests. One of my readers with five children might be far more interested in visiting a place I took my family that had friendly and efficient service, a great selection of healthy options that leaves everyone satisfied, at a price that won’t break your bank than a place that Coleman Andrews would likely give you a short dissertation on the wine menu. Just because one review might be a little more simplistic or less professionally styled, doesn’t mean it can’t have equal merit.

    There’s certainly need and room for both types of reviews, if you ask me, provided they both follow basic ethical guidelines.

    • diannejacob says

      Agreed. You have identified the issues beautifully, Jen. It definitely comes down to target audience, trust, and the ability to transport the reader in your writing, while giving them solid info.

  25. says

    I’m thrilled that this subject is being brought to the front burner.

    I’m a culinary professional and freelance food writer and have credentials similar to Mona listed above, except the chef/husband part, my hubby simply enjoys my cooking.

    I attended two food events this past year, the Key West Literary Seminar: Food in Literature and Florida Food Blog Forum. Both the writing seminar and the blogging conference approached this topic of food critic vs food blogger.

    While the elite foodies at the KWLS seemed annoyed about the Yelpers of the world, they reluctantly recognized the importance of food bloggers. When I asked for their opinion on how, as a food blogger, do I get my voice across, with credibility, in a minimal or many times, non-paying print world, (Ruth Reichl, Jonathan Gold and Frank Bruni were the panel), I had three completely different answers, as you might expect.

    Frank Bruni’s response was more sympathetic and understanding to the plight of a blogger wanting to become a critic/reviewer. Becoming a restaurant critic and reviewer requires more than one visit to the restaurant (up to 5 x’s) in order for it to be reviewed, and the majority of bloggers don’t get paid. How many times will bloggers go to the same restaurant before blogging about it? Ruth suggested that a review of one item, not the entire meal, could be reviewed (to keep the out-of-pocket expense to a minimum) and Jonathan’s response was a snarky remark about how I should just keep writing reviews on my blog and try to get published.

    The one-day blog conference had two local food writers, the food editors of the Orlando Sentinel, Heather McPherson and Jeff Houck of the Tampa Tribune, plus a panel of credible bloggers and other media professionals. The traditional food editors were the keynote speakers. They encouraged us to follow AP journalism guidelines and not take gratis or comps. The professional bloggers encouraged us to take comps and disclose upfront.

    I don’t write restaurant reviews on my blog, however, I do have a “Restaurant Recommender” series that spotlight’s my favorite restaurants. I won’t review unless I get paid.

    Your question “How have food bloggers changed restaurant reviewing?” is not easily answered, but so worthy of all of this intriguing dialogue.

    I think food bloggers will gain credability apart from print journalist’s just as online media found its niche apart from print.

    • diannejacob says

      Yeah, everyone’s got an opinion, and you asked the best, at least as far as print is concerned. I would probably have given you a 4th one, if I was on the panel. Not sure what Bruni’s answer was. Go up to 5 times? No one’s going to do that. Reichl’s is interesting, to review one dish. You’d have to choose very carefully — perhaps the most iconic dish that restaurant serves, but that could be a good way to go as a series. Gold had some good advice, actually. If you have a lot of well-done reviews on your blog, when you approach an editor, you will have a big portfolio to show.

      My advice: read the best, and learn from them. Try to figure out why they’re so successful. Iimitate them (not plagiarize).

      As for the 1-day blog and the disconnect between professional reviewers and bloggers, wow. I guess that says it all. Good for you, though, for getting paid to write reviews.

  26. says

    I appreciate your fresh perspective on Gold’s, Reichl’s and Brunni’s advice . I guess I registered Gold’s tone as offensive and didn’t listen to his advice, Brunni did suggest that he or the newspaper goes up to 5x’s and Reichl’s seems do-able. Also, thanks for your 4th opinion. I’m not to proud to ask for help.

    I should have clarified, I don’t write reviews for pay, yet. I just know what I won’t do for free. At this point, I’m happy when I get paid for a regional magazine article.

  27. says

    I blog restaurant reviews and I am completely honest about the atmosphere, decor and the food. These days going out to eat can be a treat for diners and they deserve to have what the pay for – a great experience with wonderful food. I am glad to finally have a place to voice my opinion about my experiences. I’ve worked in several restaurants so I understand a bad night. It is how they fix the bad night that makes the difference. Great article. Glad to see focus on us food bloggers.

  28. says

    I follow the Society for Professional Journalists guidelines for ethics in restaurant reviewing. I find they’re spot-on for maintaining ethics and your own credibility, plus ensuring that you don’t unfairly put a small business owner out of a living. To me, the difference between professional reviewing and amateur reviewing (which there’s nothing wrong with) lies in whether or not these have been followed –in spirit, at least, if not all the way down to the letter.

    Guidelines: http://www.afjonline.com/afj.aspx?pgID=887

  29. says

    I prefer to read what food bloggers say about a restaurant, if I have a relationship with that blogger (read them, subscribe to them), If they cook the food I like and I respect their food viewpoint, then their review becomes most credible to me. I think people that worry too much about bloggers being “unprofessional” don’t know much about blogger influence. I write a food blog, mainly about home cooking and only recently am I adding in restaurants. Why? The same reason I consult other food bloggers in town. I’m mostly interested in finding out where to go for this or for that. It’s the word of mouth thing and it helps to sort out the “customer” reviews which often can’t be trusted.

    • diannejacob says

      It sounds like trust is the operative word for you, Angela. You want a news source who will tell you about new places to eat, without all the drama and agendas on Yelp. That makes sense to me!

  30. diannejacob says

    This is exactly the kind of writing I referred to — it’s about the vibe, being there, but it’s not a review. Seems like there’s less and less of that, and in this case, there’s too much at stake for you to be honest. Plus they’d have to pay you more for a real review.

    • diannejacob says

      Yes I’m always surprised that people don’t know that term, and then I have to remind myself that I learned it in journalism school.

  31. says

    Dianne, thank you as always, for a thought provoking post. I started writing up my thoughts here: http://www.thesecondlunch.com/2011/09/killing-the-reviewer/ ’96 but it’s just a start.

    One thought I’ll share here, is that my blog is as much a personal pursuit as one I share with readers. I think that my obligations are split three ways: between my own personal growth, my readers, and the brick and mortar community (chefs, restaurants, etc) – because as a consumer I have a stake in their success, and I usually want them to stick around. (A published reviewer, on the other hand, as you point out, has a primary obligation to the reader).

    • diannejacob says

      That’s true. Bloggers are more interested in their own personal growth than traditional print reviewers. But reviewers have a stake in having the bricks & mortar community stick around too — otherwise they wouldn’t have a job. I don’t think any of them think they’re going to take a place down singlehandedly, though. That seems like an extreme point of view. Now I’ll go read the rest of your post.


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