How to write a tasty restaurant review: introduction, Part 2

If you like eating out and want to share your experiences on Trip Advisor or elsewhere, you need to bookmark this serialisation of the late, great Sam Worthington’s (restaurant critic, not actor!) book. (You can start at the beginning with Part 1 here.)

How to write a tasty restaurant review

This was an earlier cover for Sam’s book – I prefer this one, but Sam’s final choice is below. Which do you like better?

It’s called “How to be a savvy restaurant reviewer” and shares everything you need to know not just about the elements like the food and wine, but also about the whole dining experience which in many ways is as important as what you eat and drink. Read on … and enjoy!

You can still buy Sam’s book – it’s a great little gift and Holiday stocking filler

Sam’s introduction part 2

The main thing your reviews need is a point of view. Use strong adjectives and don’t be afraid of the word ‘foul’ – foul fowl will make most at least smile except, of course, the restaurateur and the unfortunate fowl who died in vain – or was it from old age?

And that brings me to the point of criticism.

It is a nasty reality of life that bad news sells and good news does not.

It is the aeroplane thing – the news is not that there were a million successful take offs and landings last week: it is that there was one accident. Unfortunately that means bad restaurant reviews are more popular than good ones and there are well known reviewers who specialise in knocking any restaurant they visit.

It might make them more readable but it does not provide credibility – all bad is as worthless as all good. The answer is that there are usually some good points, but few restaurants are perfect. Tough but fair is not a bad reputation to aim for.

There is another issue about criticism…

Have a thought for the restaurateur who has often put his/her soul and life’s savings into the project.

You can do him/her a great deal of damage and there are few restaurants that do not have some redeeming features.

How to write a tasty restaurant review: introduction, Part 2

Click on this book cover image if you’d like to buy a copy of Sam’s book. Also available on Amazon.com and Amazon in other countries.

Offhand I can only think of two in the many years I have been writing reviews that I really thought were so bad they deserved to be closed down. In those cases everything was wrong.

But just as importantly, I saw no positive signs – the food was bad and it was clear nobody understood food and nobody cared enough even if they did.

In such cases a reviewer may feel they have a duty to the paying public, to get the place shut down. However the reality is most people are trying hard, even if they are getting it all wrong, and at least deserve plaudits be it only for effort.

I can honestly say in my time I have both made and broken a restaurant or two, but overall I like to think I provided fair judgement
that should have helped the owners improve their operation.

And another point well worth making is that your views are both subjective in terms of the timing of your visits, and to your own personal foibles. Inevitably, too, other visitors may arrive on a different day and have alternative perspectives. However your followers will be people who are of similar mind to yourself.

I will briefly mention smoking as these days in Europe the PC non smokers have had their way and smoking is verboten inside almost all restaurants and bars. But sometimes a provision is made for those ‘who must.’

Outside Europe the PC mafia have not yet fully had their way so the issue maybe worth mentioning in a review if the local norm does not apply.

So having decided what kind of reviewer you want to be and established your style of review, all that remains is to go and do it.

I would recommend one piece of kit – a camera. If you want pictures to illustrate your article it is a good idea to make certain you know how to take food pictures: it is not easy particularly as the lighting will usually be wrong, so a little practice will help.

A camera is also good as a note taker, not just of the food itself so you can see exactly what you ate, but also for recording details of the menu and wine list.

How to write tasty restaurant reviews

Smart phone cameras have come a long way and will certainly do for notes, and probably for internet articles.

Smart phone cameras have come a long way and will certainly do for notes, and probably for internet articles. However a better camera will be needed for print illustration.

How much better will depend on the quality of the publication. Of course for truly professional magazines, a professional photographer will go round after you and get the shots required.

The final requirement is a notebook and pen. Never rely solely upon memory – and sometimes thoughts and small incidents, that will add important colour to the review, occur during the meal and maybe forgotten if not recorded.

Some people these days may prefer to make notes using a smartphone or tablet device, but this may look pretentious and disruptive in the intimate ambience of a restaurant. Sometimes, ‘simple’ works best.

Many of my reviews are done on my own. I always joke that I enjoy dining alone because I can have a more interesting conversation. However I freely admit the more the merrier when reviewing is appropriate, as a true cross section of the menu can then be sampled.

It is always said, at the head of my articles, that ‘Sam Worthington pays his own way and writes what he thinks.’ As a reviewer, as far as possible, I am anonymous – I tried to stop my picture being published and it certainly does not head up my articles. In my opinion that is the only way it can be.

Needless to say some restaurateurs do know me, this I know when visiting their places, and I have to look at more than my own plate. In any event I normally remain incognito throughout the visit. Sometimes at the end I will introduce myself – if I have a few questions to ask –more for curiosity’s sake than anything else. However by then I have recognised, in my mind, the competence of the establishment.

One thing I never do is take money, or free meals, for writing a review. Those that do are not restaurant reviewers but writers of fluff, or maybe in the modern idiom they are ‘reputation managers.’ You will probably still benefit from reading this book, but it is not aimed at you!

Look out for Part 3 of Sam’s book – “Your First Impressions.”

Coming soon on HTWB…

Questions? Drop Suze a note on suze@suzanstmaur.com

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