While on vacation this summer, my family and I endured an evening in a restaurant where we were that table — the one where everything went wrong. The drinks never came. The staff was overwhelmed. The kitchen was soooooo slow and then rushed our order, resulting in slapdash cooking. At one point, we saw our waitress head into the kitchen crying.
As experiences go, it was a miserable one. But in a perverse way I enjoyed it. It got me thinking about my early days as a food writer when I reviewed restaurants and nobody knew who I was. Not only is it fun to write about dining disasters, but you are doing a public service for readers. I think being privy to a restaurant at its worst gives you some insight into how it is at its best.
The subject came up recently, when Bill Keller, the editor of the New York Times, addressed the lack of anonymity of that paper’s new restaurant critic, Sam Sifton in an online chat.
That got me thinking about the whole issue, which I wrote about in this column.
The AJC’s dining critic, Meridith Ford Goldman, offers an interesting take on the issue as well.
There certainly are two sides to this issue. On the one hand, an unknown reviewer can do the “Consumers Report”-style critique and tell you firsthand if a restaurant is consistent and well run, or if it subjects its guests to ordeal dining on busy nights. But an established, recognized critic might be in a better position to explain how well a restaurant is capable of meeting its goals.
Anonymous critics will likely have better and more telling stories about the level of service; known critics will share more insightful stories about the chef and restaurant owners. Anonymous critics can tell you how bad a restaurant gets when the stars aren’t aligned; a known critic tells you how good a restaurant can be.
Then again, everyone’s a critic these days.