Lunchtime poll – room for criticism
December 30th, 2010
01:15 PM ET
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"And to tell the truth, I was bored with restaurant criticism. At times I didn't give a damn if all the restaurants in Manhattan were shoved into the East River and perished. Had they all served nightingale tongues on toast and heavenly manna and mead, there is just so much that the tongue can savor, so much that the human body (and spirit) can accept, and then it resists. Toward the end of my days as restaurant critic, I found myself increasingly indulging in drink, the better to endure another evening of dining out. I had become a desperate man with a frustrating job to perform." - from 'A Feast Made for Laughter' by Craig Claiborne, New York Times Dining editor and restaurant critic, 1982

It's a rough gig, being a restaurant critic. Sure, you're dining on the paper's dime, but plenty of the food is lousy, disgruntled restaurateurs and fleet-footed bloggers are constantly trying to unmask you and a lot of people think you could just as easily be replaced by Yelp posters.

From the comments last week on our report last week on the outing of Los Angeles Times food critic S. Irene Virbila by the management of restaurant Red Medicine:

"Restaurant Critic" isn't a job. It's eating and writing your own friggin opinion. Film critics are the same. For the most part, I find restaurants and films great when typically given bad reviews and Vice Versa..."Critics" are idiots. - Jdizzle McHammerpants

Sorry, but I think most consumers, as in everyone that's a human being and in need of nutritional intake, could really care less about how pretty something is or the immense flavors and how they compliment each other. It's sometimes upsetting to hear that your job is pointless, but "food critic" serves one distinct population, the elitists, who know no better. Food is substance, and I personally don't consider it art. - gmadnyc

I believe that most people who use food critics are sheep, plain and simple. You guys follow the flock and let the rest of the herd make your decisions for you. I am so glad that someone stood up for themselves against these wolves. - RU NUTS

Most "critics", especially on the food side are precocious, pompous, arrogant arses who just like to throw about frufru words and get rich and famous doing essentially nothing, well nothing that's really meaningful anyway. - groovygoober

I don't have a horse in this race. Eatocracy isn't a restaurant review site, and while I have reviewed restaurants for publications in the past, it's not part of my current job. With that out of the way - I believe wholeheartedly in professional restaurant criticism.

These people eat like it's their goshdarned job because it IS. As much as it seems like the gig would be all foie gras fountains and Champagne sippy cups, it's physically grueling to go out night after night after night, roping in a slew of friends, family and acquaintances willing to play by the rules (ordering things they'd rather not, calling you by a different name, passing a plate of a favored dish after a few bites...), ducking the camera at all social events and yeah - having to eat some truly horrifying meals.

No, it's not ditch-digging nor is it emergency cardiac surgery, but it does call for a tremendous amount of rigor. Some bloggers, Yelpers and other non-paid reviewers, to be sure, have put in the time and cash to have an all-encompassing knowledge of the food in their community - but that's certainly not the vast majority, and who's to say that some of them don't have an axe to grind?

It's a critic's job to put his or her mouth where the paper's money is, know how a restaurant's dishes stack up against the competition, be versed in the vagaries of the restaurant world, be able to translate experience to prose that's both appealing and useful to their readership and remain thoroughly unbiased throughout. At the profession's worst, you get schnorrers out for a free meal and at its best - a Pulitzer can be had.

Restaurateurs and chefs love and hate 'em. Half the population thinks they themselves could do the job better with their fork hand bound behind their back. What's your take on restaurant critics? Talk all smart below and we just might feature your comments in an upcoming post.

Previously – Do you pay attention to negative online reviews?



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soundoff (26 Responses)
  1. Jdizzle McHammerpants ♫♫

    I got a little moist when I saw someone had posted on a lunchtime poll. Obviously not a recent one.

    But this one is a classic. =)

    November 16, 2012 at 1:16 pm | Reply
  2. DMDorey

    Food reviewers are like movie critics. They take themselves far too seriously and value the arcane and esoteric more than what an average person would want. Their place no longer is needed if in fact that it ever was.

    November 16, 2012 at 1:12 pm | Reply
  3. Alexandra

    While I can appreciate a review or commentary on anything, one person's opinion that I do not know is not going to sway my going to try something. (A family member or good friend's review might) And while this might be their job, I believe that attempting to be pernicious is overboard.
    You had a bad meal or bad experience. Fine. We have all had at least one somewhere, but really...
    I think food critics are not what they used to be, and that they take themselves way too seriously and have become bloated with self importance.
    Let's hope that reviews like this are because of your job and not your self image. If it is the latter, it explains a lot.

    November 14, 2012 at 5:52 pm | Reply
  4. Cleo

    I read professional critics to get a feel for the restaurant; style of food, ambiance, bar scene, level of service, etc. If a place has great food, but crappy service, then the dining event is ruined for me. My local critic (Phila. Inq.) visits a review restaurant more than once, because any place or chef can have an "off" night or unfortunate incidents ~ air conditioning conks out or whatever.

    I also almost NEVER trust anyone who tells me that a restaurant is just "great ~ they give you so much!" Dead giveaway to me that this place is probably not very good, just big portions.

    January 12, 2011 at 3:45 pm | Reply
  5. art

    Food critics that terrorize hotel owners unfairly must be ousted. Who better to do that than hotel owners themselves. It is unfortunate but a person's scathing criticisms can cost a hotel owner his business and create prejudices among the public. Anyways, i think it's unfair to critique someone after eating at their place....And actually get paid for it, heck...that's not even a job....I never read their fancy reviews anyway...am qualified enough to make my own decisions.

    January 9, 2011 at 8:10 pm | Reply
  6. FrankTheTank

    HELL NO! Food critics are narcissistic wastes of human beings. Over and over again they cause people to lose their jobs, just because 'they' didn't enjoy eating there. You know what? That's too freakin' bad. Go get a real job, you self-centered aholes.

    January 9, 2011 at 5:23 pm | Reply
  7. Erin

    I usually find food critics to be a bit too snobby for my taste, but I'll still listen to what they have to say. What they may know about food can't be replicated. I mostly read online reviews though when deciding if a place is worth my business. I'm more interested in atmosphere and value. The food critic in the paper may be able to list all the reasons why the ingredients in a restaurants signature dish may or may not work, but I trust my peers (either friends or online reviewers) to tell me if the restaurant is a great place for dates or attend happy hour.

    December 30, 2010 at 3:46 pm | Reply
  8. Cole

    The difference/qualification between a good critic and the masses is a chasm; unfortunately, the egos of many lead them to believe they can leap over it as if they were a hacker in the Matrix.

    Good critics' opinions matter because of the insight/training and experience. Good critics know what to look for and can answer why something is good (or bad); they understand the process/development behind the product. All things being relative, few can match the experience of a critic. An average person may sample something weekly, or even daily, but has he also sampled the pinnacle of the product, its history or how it has changed over the times and cultures? The more one has sampled and understand a product, the better once can judge.

    A casual restaurant is going to be a $50+ experience. One for a special occasion is going to run into 3 and often 4 figures, not to mention the impact it can have on you and your company. With all that on the line, am I going to trust the opinions of someone online that doesn't have anything at stake? **** that. I'll go with those that have solid knowledge of the field and whose livelihood/career depends on just that.

    December 30, 2010 at 2:20 pm | Reply
  9. RichardHead

    Just look for The Big Trucks in the parking lot. We always know the Best places to eat. Roll Tide!

    December 30, 2010 at 1:38 pm | Reply
    • Jerv@RicH

      Yup that is the truth. ILike my pop, I bet you can name off places all over the country.

      December 30, 2010 at 1:41 pm | Reply
      • RichardHead@Jerv

        SoooooooTrue! And we can name The Best Bars too!

        December 30, 2010 at 1:48 pm | Reply
      • Jerv@RicH

        Yup. He found this place in downtown Norfolk called Uncle Louies. Restaurant and bar. The best cold draft beer, pool tables and the best dang food. Too bad it is not there anymore.

        December 30, 2010 at 1:51 pm | Reply
      • Jdizzle McHammerpants from his iPhizzle

        But not always the best bar of soap, if ANY soap.

        Zing!

        December 30, 2010 at 3:18 pm | Reply
  10. Evil Grin

    We all know JDizz's opinion!

    For me it depends on the reviewer and the importance of the place I'm looking at eating. If the reviewer is consistently mean, nitpicky or misleading, and especially if I've eaten at the restaurant and enjoyed it every bit as much as the reviewer hated it, I don't trust them at all. If the reviewer is generally balanced and fair, I'm far more likely to rely on their opinion – at least on what they report about the experience, the service, the ambiance, etc. Matters of taste are so subjective, I might give the place a chance even if the reviewer I trust says it's awful on taste alone. My tastes often differ from the majority.

    Word of mouth is actually MUCH more important to me. I'm about 30x more likely to go to a place if someone I know or follow regularly online raves about it than if I read a good review in the paper.

    I love online reviews also. It gives you a chance to see what people who have the same level of food knowledge as you do think, which is likely to be much similar to your actual tastes. If a master chef says he hates the food, chances are I like it fine because my tastes aren't trained the way his are. But if Joe1234 writes that the food was nothing special, and the restaurant smelled like sewage, I'm thinking I don't want to go there. Of course you always, always take online reviews with a grain of salt. But if the restaurant has 50 reviews and 48 of them say the restaurant was bad, and 2 say it's the best EVAR, you know it's probably not that great of a place.

    December 30, 2010 at 1:35 pm | Reply
  11. amayda

    I appreciate food critic's opinions and read them often in my local paper and other various magazines. However, the common persons' palate is generally not going to notice or care how certain foods complement each other. They are going to notice if it satisfies them, if they felt good afterwards, had good service and felt comfortable with the style of restaurant. I appreciate knowing the style of food and feel of the restaurant better than the intricacies of the sauce that was on their meat. If they tailored their opinions more to the general public than to elite foodies, I think they would have more support.

    December 30, 2010 at 1:29 pm | Reply
    • Queen of Everything

      I greatly enjoy reading a critique from a professional critic but I find critiques from everyday average Joes to be more useful for me.

      December 30, 2010 at 1:35 pm | Reply
  12. Jerv@Kat

    Good article and you made me look up schnorrers.

    December 30, 2010 at 1:29 pm | Reply
  13. Jerv@All

    Jdizz and groovygoober are famous!

    December 30, 2010 at 1:25 pm | Reply

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