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old school used to be little (or no) talking about spotting critics but it's definitely changed.

Nowadays, just about any bartender or waiter will talk about it openly, if asked; and sometimes, you don't even have to ask. Bartenders tend to be a bit more helpful.

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Yes, an amazing number of servers at different restaurants have proudly boasted to me of Bruni's visits. I probably eat at new-ish restaurants during the likely review period more than many people.

 

Looks like Cuozzo has it about right.

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old school used to be little (or no) talking about spotting critics but it's definitely changed.

Nowadays, just about any bartender or waiter will talk about it openly, if asked; and sometimes, you don't even have to ask. Bartenders tend to be a bit more helpful.

always amazes me when staff does that before the review comes out. the few times the staff (unprompted) pointed out a critic to me or talked about the visit, the reviews were not exactly what they were hoping for. you just don't know till the review is out.

 

some of it may be due to pressure - nyt review is the single most important review for so many restaurants and the pressure is on, the staff gets drilled. it's a relief when the critic finally shows up.

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always amazes me when staff does that before the review comes out. the few times the staff (unprompted) pointed out a critic to me or talked about the visit, the reviews were not exactly what they were hoping for. you just don't know till the review is out.

Often, the staff doesn't have any opinion that the review will be good; they're just sharing the factual information that such-and-such critic has been there. I do recall one occasion when the staff were absolutely convinced that they were about to get panned, and in fact the review was positive.

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I have to wonder, though; are there any newspapers or other regional publications that use an anonymous reviewer, akin to the Michelin inspectors?

 

You mean, as in "by the East Bumblefuck Gazette staff"? I think that might be a little too impersonal. Don't readers want to attach a specific named source to a specific opinion? I mean, then whom would we excoriate for poorly written reviews or errors of fact -- all the writers for that section or that publication? :lol: And besides, what about publications that have minimal staff, only one or two -- that makes the "staff" byline moot, no?

 

You'd think that if they just got rid of the byline on the reviews, it'd at least make things somewhat more difficult for the restaurants.

 

Only temporarily. And as above, readers might be uncomfortable not knowing whose opinion they're reading.

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You'd think that if they just got rid of the byline on the reviews, it'd at least make things somewhat more difficult for the restaurants.

Interestingly, they used to do that, at least for theater criticism. I was recently reading 19th-century reviews in a number of newspapers (the Times, Boston Globe, Washington Post, etc.). None of them had a byline. I didn't check their restaurant reviews (if they had any), but I doubt that those were credited if the theatrical reviews were not.

 

Clearly it was more a matter of custom, because theater critics have never needed to be anonymous.

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You'd think that if they just got rid of the byline on the reviews, it'd at least make things somewhat more difficult for the restaurants.

Interestingly, they used to do that, at least for theater criticism. I was recently reading 19th-century reviews in a number of newspapers (the Times, Boston Globe, Washington Post, etc.). None of them had a byline. I didn't check their restaurant reviews (if they had any), but I doubt that those were credited if the theatrical reviews were not.

 

Clearly it was more a matter of custom, because theater critics have never needed to be anonymous.

 

True. And, in NY, at least, the critics often attend the last preview before the "opening" night.

 

Some of the old time restaurant reviewers, like Roy Andries de Groot, would notify the restaurant of when they planned to visit, and what they expected to order.

 

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And you know, that might ultimately lead to a more representative assessment of the restaurant's general capabilities than a Times critic inadvertently being on the receiving end of the bad meal or service disaster just about every restaurant occasionally executes.

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And you know, that might ultimately lead to a more representative assessment of the restaurant's general capabilities than a Times critic inadvertently being on the receiving end of the bad meal or service disaster just about every restaurant occasionally executes.

Who are you, and what have you done with Wilfred?

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And you know, that might ultimately lead to a more representative assessment of the restaurant's general capabilities than a Times critic inadvertently being on the receiving end of the bad meal or service disaster just about every restaurant occasionally executes.

That really makes no sense, Mr. Pig. After all, atypical performances can be good or bad. As a review requires a minimum of three visits, these anomalies ought to even out.

 

But if the restaurant has advance notice of the critic's arrival, the bad performances are less likely to occur, while the good ones will be better than ever. This makes it more probable that the critic will be reviewing an experience that the average consumer could not replicate.

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<snip out the Pig>

 

But if the restaurant has advance notice of the critic's arrival, the bad performances are less likely to occur, while the good ones will be better than ever.

 

From the viewpoint of a former line cook, I have to say that that's not necessarily true. Everyone is put on edge, FOH and BOH, and when people are nervous, shit happens. Not necessarily to the critic's table, but possibly within his/her earshot. One place where I worked, we all knew when Moira Hodgson was in the house. That didn't stop a server from forgetting not just who got what at the table, but which table was which, to the point of asking her table what number they were (as if they'd know??). That made it into the review, along with mostly positive mention of the food. Which would have made a bigger impression on you?

 

This makes it more probable that the critic will be reviewing an experience that the average consumer could not replicate.

 

Again, yes and no. In my experience of having worked at several places (four, iirc) during their review period, at some places the exec chef or chef de cuisine will make everyone bring out the absolute best pieces of product, and will personally cook for the critic's table. That certainly won't happen for "the average consumer." Or s/he may send out something that is not SOP, and the critic may mention that item glowingly, thereby requiring the restaurant to start doing it for everyone because they now expect it. That happened with Ruth Reichl receiving very special chef-made sausage as an amuse, which of course she adored; but there was no way we could have kept that up immediately, so we ended up giving away purchased stuff. It was good enough sausage, but certainly not house-made as she reported, and it became an unexpected expense. OTOH, at another place, we knew but didn't do anything special (it was lunch), and so the critic got exactly what anyone else would get.

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<snip out the Pig>

But if the restaurant has advance notice of the critic's arrival, the bad performances are less likely to occur, while the good ones will be better than ever.

From the viewpoint of a former line cook, I have to say that that's not necessarily true. Everyone is put on edge, FOH and BOH, and when people are nervous, shit happens.

I was referring specifically to things the restaurant could do in advance if it knew when the critic was coming. I am sure you can think of at least a dozen.

 

I do realize that once they realize the critic is there, people get nervous. Frank Bruni once said that there was frequently a moment of recognition mid-meal, when suddenly everything changed. And he said, about half the time, service got worse, instead of better. Now, those keeping count of how often the critic is recognized, would classify those incidents as "recognized visits." But because he was not recognized immediately, he has a basis for comparison.

 

I suspect that some of the nervousness Suzanne referred to is because of the surprise: you don't know the critic is coming that day. The staff may not even recognize him until mid-meal, and then, "Oh, s#*&^#^@!" Now, compare that to the situation where you have several days'—or at some restaurants, even weeks'—notice of his visit. I have to assume that there would be much less tendency to panic. This is a situation that I am assuming Suzanne has never experienced, because no pro critic (not even Restaurant Girl, if we can believe her) reserves under his or her own name.

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And you know, that might ultimately lead to a more representative assessment of the restaurant's general capabilities than a Times critic inadvertently being on the receiving end of the bad meal or service disaster just about every restaurant occasionally executes.

That really makes no sense, Mr. Pig. After all, atypical performances can be good or bad. As a review requires a minimum of three visits, these anomalies ought to even out.

 

Logically impeccable, but the consequence nonetheless is that representative critics have the habit of making whatever went wrong the angle of the review. Bruni didn't get a drink spilled on him every time he went to ADNY (I think that's where it was), and I hope he didn't fail to find the restroom every time he went to Blue Ribbon. But that's what we read about.

 

But if the restaurant has advance notice of the critic's arrival, the bad performances are less likely to occur, while the good ones will be better than ever. This makes it more probable that the critic will be reviewing an experience that the average consumer could not replicate.

 

It makes it more probable that we'll read a review about what the restaurant is capable of rather than a review about how Mr Big didn't get seated right away.

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Bruni didn't get a drink spilled on him every time he went to ADNY (I think that's where it was), and I hope he didn't fail to find the restroom every time he went to Blue Ribbon. But that's what we read about.

No reviewing strategy can compensate for an irresponsible or incompetent critic. I just rechecked the ADNY review, and there was no complaint about a spilled drink. The one time I distinctly recall him mentioning a spill, in his no-star review of Ago, he specifically said that his complaint was not the spill itself (accidents happen), but the restaurant's failure to make amends afterwards. Now, ham-handed service, like an over-cooked pork chop, can be an anomaly or a regularity. If he's doing his job, then he's reporting these things either because he's detected a pattern, or because the failure is inexcusable. I don't think he ever mentioned an accidental spill for its own sake.

 

But if the restaurant has advance notice of the critic's arrival, the bad performances are less likely to occur, while the good ones will be better than ever. This makes it more probable that the critic will be reviewing an experience that the average consumer could not replicate.

It makes it more probable that we'll read a review about what the restaurant is capable of rather than a review about how Mr Big didn't get seated right away.

I am not much interested in what the restaurant is capable of, unless I have access to the same experience. Otherwise, it's like reading a travelogue of a place I will never visit. (Yes, I do read those sometimes, but not for the same reason as restaurant reviews.)

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You are arguing with things I didn't say.

 

And you know, that might ultimately lead to a more representative assessment of the restaurant's general capabilities than a Times critic inadvertently being on the receiving end of the bad meal or service disaster just about every restaurant occasionally executes.

 

My opinion.

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