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.
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?