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The Importance of the Restaurant or Wine Critic...
and what does the future hold?
The first professional restaurant review may have been in the New York Times in 1859, when the editor in chief told an unnamed reporter to "go and dine" in order that he might provide an account of his experiences. We've come a long way since then...
And now, with the Internet has come the huge (and seemingly unstoppable) rise of consumer reviews, blogs, opinions; on anything and everything. As always, food, travel & wine are favorite topics. Millions of foodies (and travelers and wine lovers) are now civilian critics, letting Chowhound, Yelp, TripAdvisor, Citysearch, and other sites in on their recent experiences. Further adding to this global change, print publications are in crisis, reducing journalistic staff, and making professional reviews fewer and further between. Will professional reviewers become extinct? And what the difference between a professional review and a consumer review anyway?
Jeff Cox, who had been working independently as a writer since 1981, including as a restaurant reviewer, describes his view on the differences between a professional reviewer and a consumer reviewer: "When the restaurant reviewer is a journalist (someone with a degree in journalism), then the review is an account of the reviewer’s experience with no agenda behind it. It can be trusted to be impartial. That makes it valuable to the restaurant as a reality check to see where improvement may be needed, and to the customer, who can be assured that his or her experience will reflect what the reviewer found."
On consumer sites such as Yelp, Jeff says, "They are interesting and entertaining, but not necessarily reflective of the restaurant. More reflective of the writer’s state of mind, prejudices, etc. These people aren’t trained journalists." And I can certainly see that in many (although certainly not all) of the Yelp type posts appearing daily throughout social media. Many posters who seem to have an ax to grind with a particular business or some other pet peeve to air, and in many posts it feels quite personal. Jeff states, "Restaurant reviewing requires accuracy, truth, and honesty. You are dealing with people’s livelihoods. The reviewer should embody the standards of real journalism and tell the truth as he or she sees it, always be fair, and never have an agenda. In other words, even if I don’t like the restaurateur, I should still rate the restaurant fairly." And I think that's what many business owners and managers fear about public consumer reviews, the lack of objectivity and the fear that one person's opinion may have a direct effect on their business - and their livelihood.
Will the professional restaurant review become a thing of the past? Perhaps not, as "community journalism" seems to be gaining ground. According to The Project For Excellence In Journalism, some new sites like stlbeacon.org and voiceofsandiego.org, often launched with the help of foundation grants, show promise, providing critical community news and information.
Others are mixing community building with professional standards of reporting. Oakland Local, a community site founded by Web entrepreneur Susan Mernit and funded through both a start-up grant and advertising, is one example of such an experiment. It covers topics like the environment, food, development and education for its local community and in a recent month had 65,000 page views, 40,000 visits and 25,000 unique visitors.
And some partnerships have begun between the old and the new media. The Seattle Times is partnering with a number of local neighborhood blogs including westseattleblog.com to share links and collaborate on reporting. Other legacy news organizations are looking to become aggregators of community sites as a way to deliver more micro local news to their users (and increase their value to users in the process).
Although I did not find traditional restaurant reviews on these sites, both oaklandlocal.com and westseattleblog.com have a fairly extensive food section, westseattleblog.com with a strong restaurant focus. Could reviews be coming? And what will all this mean to current guides and rating systems such as Zagat or the Michelin Guide? Where will they fit into the mix?
I'd like to know how much impact each of these rating, guides or reviews/reviewers has had on your business (whether food, wine or hospitality related) and where you see the future of the reviewer or critic. Please take a moment to let me know!
If you publish this comment, please keep me anonymous.
To Your Success
HOME BUSINESS CONSULTANT
I like your emails and would love to share with my thousands of PCA Members. Check out my Beverage section – at the moment totally neglected http://www.professionalchef.com/VineAndSpirits/Vines%20Spirits.htm
Thank you - have a great day!
Walter Neuhold, Founder
Professional Chef Association
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