People do dine out no matter what you say. Ed, what you say does influence diners & I read your column religiously. I personally think you should drop your anonymous dining (some people know who you are) and walk in restaurants and say "I'm Ed Marietta (sic) and I want you to give me the best you can" instead of using assumed names and playing the I don't know you game. I've waited on you at several restaurants. I wonder if you would know me? I'm a really good server, which is why you were put in my section. And, believe me you were given the best of everything. Don't you think other restaurants deserve the same heads up?
-- Comment from: oncebittentwiceshy ( Registered User )
Ain't gonna happen.
I could wax poetic and tell you that I'm the culinary Tom Joad ("Wherever there's a chef beating up taste buds, I'll be there."), but I'll let some other restaurant critics from other newspapers explain why:
I think this comment is bulls--, if you'll excuse the coarseness. I've had people tell me the same thing and I know they're lying -- otherwise I wouldn't consistently get such bad service. This seems like a weird game of one-upsmanship. He or she is trying to intimidate you.
I really don't believe this blogger. Sure, maybe you've been made in a place or two. But what's to prevent you from going back on a Saturday night when they can't do anything special for you without shortchanging the other tables. (You'd notice that and report it.)
I remember one owner who figured out who I was and put three servers on my table. Did he think I was so stupid as to not notice that when I left, every other table still had dirty dishes on it?
Keep your anonymity. And read this server the riot act in your blog.
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
If I remember correctly, once upon a time this was the philosophy of Michelin or one of the other long-established restaurant guides in Europe. If so, I'm not sure the thinking is still the same. That is, the attitude was: Show me your best; that's what we are looking for, and to hell with anonymity. Wish I could remember the particulars, but I do remember that this one critic drove a bright orange car that he expected to be identified with as soon as he pulled up to a restaurant. While it's difficult to remain anonymous - I figure I'm identified a third of the time - I rather think that as long as our goal is to attempt to provide readers with a report on the kind of experience they also might expect at a restaurant we should continue to try to go unrecognized.
When I'm identified and when I think it has a bearing on the nature of the service or food I've received, I note it in the review. I think it would be fun and enlightening, however, to go into a restaurant, announce why you are there, see how the restaurant does, and write it up. You could be the first critic in the country to take this approach.
Food Editor/Restaurant Critic
I dined recently in one of Orlando's top restaurants, one where they undoubtedly know me. I, too, was given a top server -- in fact, the manager on duty waited on me himself. But before they figured I was there, the server originally assigned to me couldn't answer a very basic question about the menu. In a restaurant such as this, that misstep cost it a lot of points. But the flaw in the logic of the reader/server is the assumption that a restaurant give less than "the best you can" unless someone identifies himself or herself as a critic. If a restaurant's staff would assume that every seat at every table on any given night is occupied by the restaurant critic they'd be well on the way to a positive review.
To me, the purpose of a restaurant review isn't to describe the very best treatment that a VIP is likely to get, but to describe the experience that the average, unknown person can expect to have. Otherwise, our readers would usually go home disappointed because the restaurant didn't meet those VIP expectations. It's unfortunate that food writers do get recognized, because I know it makes a huge difference in how you're treated and the care taken with your food. But I still think every effort should be made to go anonymously. If it's obvious that your cover is blown, that should be mentioned in the review.
Valerie Phillips, food editor
Deseret Morning News
Salt Lake City
Our goal as restaurant reviewers is to give the average reader an idea of what dining at a particular restaurant will be like. Walking in and asking for the best of everything completely defeats that purpose. If we're ethical and reasonably careful, being recognized should be the exception rather than the rule. Sure, we all feel silly making reservations under assumed names and pretending to be regular people out for a regular dinner, but dining anonymously is the best way to give readers an honest picture of the dining experience they can expect.
The Santa Fe Reporter
This server mistakes the critic's goal: It's not to assess the best possible experience one could ever have at a given restaurant; it's to assess the TYPICAL experience one has there, as much as we can. Ditching anonymity ditches that possibility. Readers know some restaurants serve better-prepared food and offer better service to celebrities and bigshots; that doesn't help the readers figure out what's likely to happen to them. That's our job. I say: Cherish the anonymity (no, the chef can't order better product when he sees you -- but I've been told one here ran to a neighboring restaurant and borrowed some of ITS supplies). And note it in the review if you're outed; I think you can usually tell.
Helen Schwab, Charlotte Observer
If you're uncovered, so be it. Service really is the only thing the restaurant can change on the spot. The chef can't call a fish purveyor on the fly. I sometimes wish I could let restaurants know who I am -- it sure would explain the ordering so much food. But if we want to give readers a picture of the overall dining experience, we have to be treated like anyone else.
Deborah Pankey | Food Editor
Daily Herald | Arlington Heights, IL
I think the answer to her question should include some other questions. She gave you the best service she could because she knew who you were. Did she do anything extra special for you? Did the restaurant do anything special? Given she said, "you were given the best of everything," she answered her own question. The fact that they knew who you were made them do something they normally wouldn't. If you were just any Joe Blow, you may not have been seated in her section, she may not have been quite as nice and you may not have gotten "the best of everything." That is why we MUST do our best to stay anonymous even though sometimes that is hard to do.
Fort Wayne (Ind.) Journal Gazette
Yes, they can give you the best of everything--everything they have, of course. They're not going to suddenly be able to replace bagged iceberg lettuce with locally grown babygreens, a dull bottled dressing with a signature vinaigrette, trucked-in cheesecakes with a specialty dessert, a bad recipe with a good one. An experienced eye can tell if they have good purveyors, fresh concepts, and overall know-how in place.
Also--if I know I'm recognized, I take that into consideration, thinking, "if this is the best they can do...."
Still, I'm intrigued by the idea of walking into a place and saying "I'm reviewing your place. Hit me with your best shot." It could be fun! I think I'll do that when I quit this gig--review the five top places in town before I go...
the Des Moines Register