Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Monthly Catch Up


The Restaurant Reviewer at Work?

You may well be wondering what happened to July and August - let's just say they came and then they went. So before the end of September rolls around I thought to follow up on the last post about restaurant reviews.
Before there were Internet sites like Yelp and UrbanSpoon there were restaurant guide books and of course there still are - the Sydney Morning Herald Guide, Michelin and Zagat for example. One of the criticisms of these guides is that they tend to grade restaurants by arbitrary and mysterious criteria and concentrate too much on high end dining so that they don't really reflect where real people do actually eat. Two articles from the Guardian (here and here) discuss the latest Zagat Guide to London which rates places like the Ledbury, Dinner by Heston and two of Gordon Ramsay's restaurants in their top ten. Do restaurant guides promote intelligent appreciation of food and informed criticism of eating establishments? Do they help to set standards on which that criticism can be based? What criteria do they use to judge the cooking? How do they choose which restaurants will be included? The Michelin guide in particular is notoriously secretive about their methods yet three stars is still regarded as the mark of excellence never mind what it may really represent.
There can be no doubt that the anonymous voices who rate restaurants on the Internet are both more opinionated and more egalitarian than the majority of 'official' guides. So whilst sites like Yelp may give you a better idea of what to expect from your local Italian or Thai they would appear to contribute little to an intellectual gastronomic dialogue. Research has however led to the conclusion that social media sites do have an influence on 'how consumers judge the quality of goods and services' and they do influence a restaurant's takings. It's also worth remembering that not all social media sites are created equal, so, just as in the case of the more established printed restaurant guides, it is worth knowing what you are dealing with before you make any sort of decision based on their recommendations. Oliver Thring discusses Trip Advisor here and it is instructive to read some of the comments on his post eg.'I would much rather read a restaurant critic's review of a fine dining restaurant, but when it's a local chinese, indian or italian, and I care just as much about the service, cleanliness and atmosphere as I do about the food and price, tripadvisor works for me'.
And for the final word, this piece from Bruce Palling who calls homself 'Gastroenophile'. Mr. Palling has a foot in both camps - he is a journalist (he writes for The Wall Street Journal) and a blogger. He believes that 'we should all be grateful that there has never been such a profusion of fascinating accounts of fine dining so available - and provided free of charge'. Does he mean that we should be grateful that there is now so much information freely available or should we be grateful that there was a time when we were free of other people's gratuitous opinions no matter how fascinating?

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