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Food Critics vs. Bloggers

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The recent threads about whether a restaurant reviewer should remain anonymous and the propriety of taking photos of restaurant food prompts this comparison. Made me think about the differences, if any, between the restaurant reviews I turn to in my local paper as opposed to the blogs and websites I follow on the internet.

Newspaper food critic -- paid. Blogger -- volunteer.

Food critic -- regular schedule. Blogger -- posts when convenient.

Critic -- big time, Bruni, Reichl, Virbila, Bauer -- influences thousands, can make or break a restaurant. Blogger -- at best influences a handful. For example, I follow The Delicious Life by Sarah in L.A., but more for the writing than for restaurant recs. I contribute comments and suggestions to Bandini for The Great Taco Hunt, and have checked out some places because of his postings. Some major restaurants in SoCal recognize Chowhound, but fewer ethnic places than you'd think -- even many of those that are often cited on the board.

Critic -- should try to remain anonymous. Blogger -- telling the establishment of your blog is equivalent to "Do you know who I am?" to a police officer stopping you.

Critic -- sends a photographer for pics. Blogger -- not only snaps every dish of every course, but reveals the game by first taking shots of the entrance, sign, every page of the menu, but never any people.

Bottom line: I look forward to Wednesday's L.A. Times, where I'll find the weekly food section with a careful review that I often find irrelevant or ridiculously out of touch ("We loved the innovative three-bite miniscule appetizer at $22.). I pick up the L.A. Weekly to read J. Gold and when back home in St. Louis grab Sauce magazine or the Riverfront Times. I have become a Chowhound addict. I catch up on ruhlman.com and egullet, though I still haven't figured out how to follow their postings and replies.

I often punch up the links to blog entries and flicker photo galleries mentioned in Chowhound postings. But as I wrote in response to the question about photographing food in restaurants -- If you are anywhere near me -- no flash. No getting up from your seat for a better angle. If I'm lucky enough to be splurging at Cut or Craft or Mozza and your blogging is distracting me, I'm going to ask the management to require you to cease and desist.

Critic -- if restaurant suspects, tries to impress. Blogger -- restaurant tries to tolerate.

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  1. Nosh,

    Very interesting post. I had been thinking of this too, although not as in depth as you have. I don't know if blogging can lead to a gig being a critic, but I sometimes think of bloggers as wannabes. But as Blogging becomes more a part of the mainstream, blogging may lead to a niche all its own although I still can discern a difference between the two. I would think that bloggers can serve a purpose of discovering that awesome neighborhood ethnic place that the critic won't find for months if not years, but many bloggers don't seem to want to try very hard to fin those places. That is one point of uniqueness, flexibility and timeliness that bloggers have over critics.

    1. One of the nice things about blogs is that they can be as broad or as obsessively focused as they want to be.

      Slice (http://slice.seriouseats.com/ ) is JUST about NY pizza. Ono Kine Grindz (http://onokinegrindz.typepad.com) is only about Hawaii restaurants.

      1. Nice post, that's a very fair appraisal. One of things that bugs me about bloggers is the lack of rigor in their reviews. Most of the time I find the quality of the writing to be poor and their research (or knowledge of the subject) is not always solid. Seems that some of them cover their weaknesses with nasty or rude comments. I prefer reading people who know their topic and have something constructive to say.

        Where I think the bloggers do well by us, the reading public, is in their ability to stay focused on a micro-topic like burritos in the bay area in burritoeater.com, and other such blogs. A critic would never be able to sustain a career on such a narrow topic.

        1 Reply
        1. re: sgwood415

          I have to agree on the negative comments aspect. It seems that some people start blogs as some sort of catharsis for daily frustrations. Makes reading those blogs very unpleasant and hard to take seriously when so few things are positive.

        2. "It may be happening in tech first, but there's no reason the same thing won't happen, eventually, in every media niche" ..

          http://www.forbes.com/technology/2007....

          1. Your last sentence is more telling. The restaurant tries to impress critics, thereby getting a more favorable review.

            Bloggers let others know how the general public is treated and how their food presentations look.

            I have been invited to some local restaurants for a meal, set up a time and date but go there first as a 'regular' patron. I take photos of my meals (no flash). When I have gone back, as the known blogger, and asked for the exact same meal, the portion sizes are decidedly larger, more and a larger variety of sides are given and presentation is flawless.

            To me, the critics are being 'bought out' to give a good review and bloggers are telling it as they, and others, will see it when they patronize the place.

            (and, when the meal is then told that it is "free", I tip by paying the entire bill to the waitstaff. I have never been bought out)(I have, however, not bothered to blog those places where the service and food served to me as a regular person was of lesser quality than when I was a known entity.)

            7 Replies
            1. re: Cathy

              An anonymous critic can't be "bought out." If a restaurant tried to comp my meal or otherwise tipped me off that they'd spotted me (hasn't happened so far), that would be the end of the review.

              Critics' meal expenses are reimbursed by the publication.

              1. re: Robert Lauriston

                I was commenting on the last sentence of the OP- restaurant will try to impress only certain people, instead of all patrons.

                I am glad you remain anonymous. Most 'reviews' I see read more like ads- every one is positive, all presentations are perfect, unspilled and plentiful.

                1. re: Cathy

                  You live in San Diego? Naomi Wise's reviews often point out dishes that didn't work and other problems.

                  1. re: Robert Lauriston

                    Yes, and I was not talking about Her.

                2. re: Robert Lauriston

                  Some of the best restaurants wouldn't tip off the critic (or blogger) -- they would just make an extra effort to ensure things were as good as possible. Even if nothing was comped, if the effort that went into the food and service was above and beyond what the average diner would receive, then the review or blog would not be accurate.

                  1. re: limster

                    Which is precisely the point of dining anonymously.

                    1. re: Robert Lauriston

                      Point was that a critic or blogger can't always tell if they were dining anonymously or not. Just because there wasn't a comp isn't sufficient indication; restaurants could more more subtle than that.