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Apr 10, 2014 06:18 AM

Coverage of wine/bar in Boston food reviews [split thread]

(Note: This thread was split from another discussion at: The link mentioned below was to Devra First's review of Alden & Harlow: -- The Chowhound Team)

thanks for the link oc. i am genuinely shocked there is not just a sentence about the wine list, but several!

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  1. The tyranny of word count. For my part, I would love to spend more time talking about a restaurant's wine, beer and cocktail programs. but 700 words is a straitjacket.

    14 Replies
    1. re: MC Slim JB

      i understand editorial space constraints, but 95% of globe reviews don't mention wine or wine service at all. for more than a few of us it's an integral part of a meal.

      with more and more content moving to on-line platforms perhaps change will ensue? i can't remember the last time i held an actual newspaper in my hands.

      1. re: hotoynoodle

        I recall hearing that Devra's predecessor didn't drink, and this accounted for her never mentioning beverage programs in her reviews. I found this very surprising for exactly the reason you cite: it's pretty important to many diners.

        I would love to see the changes in the media industry foment a shift back toward longer-form reviews, but I'm doubtful. I think the issue is not about space constraints, but the attention span of readers. Nobody can be bothered to read 2000 words of service journalism in one sitting anymore.

        1. re: MC Slim JB

          I assume we have this piece on the lack of wine/alcohol in reviews lurking in the back of our minds? (which is another way of my saying 'I love that site and if you haven't seen it please go check it out'


          In any event- I do wish there were more coverage of these programs, but I'm not sure I want it as part of the restaurant review, at least for reviews that employ a star rating: I have a hard enough time parsing stars already when what I care most about is food, and if more text were devoted to beverage I'd probably feel more confusion over what part of the restaurant the stars address.

          If the program is particularly good, or particularly bad, I think that's worth mentioning in the review proper, but in an ideal world I'd much prefer to see them in separate pieces, like an ongoing feature of "here are the places you should go to drink wine, or cocktails, or beer, and here's why."

          I think this would also be better than pushing the burden on the food critic, because you could assign a writer who is an expert in the area and have the word count to really geek out on the topic. Insofar as I turn to the globe (or nyt, etc.) for a 'review-of-record', it's because I hope the author to have insight I wouldn't have on the topic, or that I'd be less likely to find on a board like CH.

          I think expecting a food critic to have that sort of input on beer/wine/cocktails is probably an unfair burden for anyone who is devoted enough to those topics to want to read about them in the paper (as opposed to just looking up the list/commentary online).

          Of course, in the age of slashing dining sections, is this likely to happen? maybe not... but i can dream right :)

          1. re: valcfield

            Great piece, valcfield: glad to know about that site as well. I sure wish I had more space to devote to beverage programs, especially in an era when many more restaurants are getting much more serious about them.


            1. re: MC Slim JB

              great link and valc, i agree with all of your points.

              having dealt with numerous food critics (local and national) some of them have shocking food hang-ups and others can barely get out of their own way with critiquing the meals, so yeah, expecting them to be knowledgeable about beverages as well would be too tall of an order.

              it's a category sorely lacking in main-stream press and i really don't understand why on-line versions of media outlets don't jump on-board. perhaps it would succeed in attracting younger readers with more discretionary income? ya know, with "lifestyle" articles they actually want to read?

              mcslim, it's been a sea-change in restaurant culture and the lack of visibility for it is a true disservice. through no fault of your own. ;)

              1. re: hotoynoodle

                I feel like I've been covering beverage programs in more depth for longer than most of my professional brethren, but it's still not nearly enough.

                Serious Eats was paying me to write full-fledged reviews of Boston bars for a spell, but their coverage outside of NYC was a short-lived experiment.


                1. re: MC Slim JB

                  I also think that with the Globe, as with most major newspapers, there's a lingering, historical "We're a family-values paper" ethos when it comes to covering booze.

                  1. re: Jolyon Helterman

                    I think Luke O'Neill sometimes reviews bars for the Metro.

      2. re: MC Slim JB

        You choose not to spend more time in your writing. Your choice how you divide your words. What's with the pittypot? You could use 400 words on food, 150 on decor and service and still have 150 on beverage service. You've put yourself into a straightjacket.

        1. re: Bellachefa

          It's actually not completely your choice (you're pleasing an editor).

          1. re: Bellachefa

            I could write 2000-word restaurant reviews on my blog for free, or get paid to write 700-word reviews for a local publication. I wish I had the luxury of an unpaid food writing hobby. Got any ideas as to how I might monetize the blog?

            My most recent Improper Bostonian review, of Alden & Harlow, dedicated about 600 words to food, 150 to the beverage program, and a scant 50 to service and ambiance (they let me push the word count to 800 sometimes, but encourage me not to). I'm curious: how would you allocate that word count if you were reviewing a restaurant?


            1. re: MC Slim JB

              Well, I looked at your blog.

              First thread is April 14, 2nd thread is 12/13, 3rd thread is April 13. That is a clear sign of why you can't make money from your blog.

              You can't possibly be making a living at food writing with a few stories published a year, regardless of them being 700 words or 2000 words.

              And as a food journalist, you have spent a lot of time getting other peoples opinions about the last restaurant you reviewed before writing your story.

              1. re: Bellachefa

                The blog exists mainly as a place to collect links to my published work. If you look at the left-hand column, you'll see I've published over 300 professional restaurant reviews and food/drink features over the last few years. But it's a hobby, not my day job.

                The notion that I solicit other people's opinions before I write a review simply isn't true. My reviews reflect own assessments and opinions based on my own first-hand research.

                I'm still curious: how would you allocate word counts in a review? Do you know anyone who is making a living off a food blog, and if so, how they monetized it?


                1. re: Bellachefa

                  LOL @ making money blogging about food and drink. Perhaps some ads and Amazon links to make enough to pay for the web hosting. People who make money doing so are writing articles for larger sites and are making small amounts for text and photos; very few people seem to stick even with writing for SeriousEats for very long probably for that reason.

                  Blogging as a professional writer is about having a homebase where people can find you, where you can put out-takes and unpublished materials, and other things to further your brand.


          2. I may be a bit prickly about it because I've heard endless reams of well-meaning but useless advice from folks who know nothing about building a business online or the realities of food journalism these days.

            There are blogs devoted to food that turn a profit: many are national enterprises that have taken the old-media food magazine model of wide-ranging service journalism -- cooking, reviews, test-kitchen features, bars and adult beverages, interviews, etc. -- and successfully adapted it to the web, like Serious Eats. Those are big, corporate affairs run and staffed like national food magazines used to be.

            You can probably count the number of food blogs that are generating a comfortable living for somebody on your fingers and toes -- Pioneer Woman, love her or not, is one of the most profitable of them -- but each hoes a very narrow furrow, and most are home-cooking oriented.

            The statistics on the rest aren't pretty from a business perspective. Most are pure hobbyist affairs written by housebound moms and don't generate a nickel.