Restaurateurs understand the weight of food critic reviews. A negative review could threaten to shut a restaurant’s doors, while a positive review can make a restaurant fill up reservations for weeks. In an industry where the approval of your work can make or break your business, it can be nerve racking to interact with food critics. To increase your chances of a positive rating, make sure your restaurant is prepared for a critic’s visit.
The role of a food critic
A food critic’s job is to visit restaurants, try the food, and write about the experience. Depending on the publication, the reviewer might also provide a rating. The purpose of a critic’s reviews is to educate readers about what to expect and help them make an informed decision about whether the restaurant is right for them.
Traditional food critics — those who write for newspapers and magazines — are usually reputable trained journalists. This formal education helps them apply consistent standards and write fairly about each establishment. Many critics have years of experience writing about food, restaurants, food service, chefs, and industry trends. They’re well-versed in different cuisines, cooking styles and service types.
Unlike other journalists, a restaurant critic needs a few specific, intangible skills — namely, a nuanced palette and few (if any) food aversions. That way, they can eat and write about a wide range of dishes without incorporating personal bias. Because they go incognito at restaurants, critics must be able to order and pay for meals without attracting attention.
Guidelines food critics follow
When a food journalist tries a restaurant, they pay close attention to every aspect of the experience. From the moment they walked in the door, they’re observing the decor, service, atmosphere and — of course — the food. Most publications require that their food writers follow a set of guidelines to ensure a fair reviewing process.
- Anonymity: To avoid special treatment, critics try hard to blend in with the rest of the patrons at a food establishment. Their goal is to get the same experience as any other customer. To that end, they rarely use their own names when making reservations.
- Range: Most critics try to taste a wide variety of recipes, often over the course of two or three visits. They typically order items from all parts of the menu, paying close attention to different ingredients and cooking techniques. This strategy gives them a better sense of the menu as well as the service experience. In many cases, a writer will bring a few guests to accommodate large orders without creating a spectacle.
- No gifts: In most cases, the publication pays for the critic’s meals. They don’t accept free or discounted meals to preserve the integrity of their reviews.
- Accuracy: Like any good journalist, a food critic strives for accuracy in every word. They double-check facts and verify that any claims they make are correct before the review is published.
Reputable critics understand that their words can have a very real effect on a business’s future; they go to great lengths to be fair and honest. Most publications establish a standard rating scale to help customers compare options at different price points. After a restaurant opens, writers usually wait a few weeks to review it; that way, the team has time to refine their operations and build key skills.
Wondering what standards your restaurant needs to meet? Some factors food critics consider include:
- Flavor and freshness of food
- Expertise of food preparation
- Selection of menu items
- Quality of service
- Atmosphere of the restaurant
Context is important, especially when it comes to service and atmosphere. After all, customers expect a different level of attentiveness and elegance at a fine-dining restaurant than they do at a diner. Critics take this into consideration when giving ratings.
In the age of blogs and social media, restaurant reviews can come from a variety of sources. While professional reviewers usually stick to journalistic standards, informal critics aren’t bound by the same standards.
How to earn a 5-star review
When you run a restaurant, you never know which patron could be a food critic. The best way to earn a good review is to create a consistent experience for all customers. Below are some tips and best practices.
- Focus on quality. Great meals start with high-quality ingredients. To preserve quality, make sure food is served quickly and stored safely.
- Refine your recipes. Narrow the selection to include meals customers respond well to. Choose dishes your kitchen staff can prepare well every time. Take a look at more tips on perfecting your menu.
- Train your staff. Make sure they understand skills such as speaking to customers, processing transactions, clearing tables, and serving food in a way that matches the atmosphere of the restaurant. This is particularly important for fine-dining restaurants, where customer expectations are higher.
- Offer efficient, friendly service. Customer-facing staff should aim to be friendly and welcoming but not intrusive. They should also be able to gauge what each table needs in terms of timing and interaction.
- Ask for feedback. Offer comment cards, send out surveys by email, or poll customers on social media. Use the responses to improve your operations.
The best part? When you maintain high standards for food critics, you’re more likely to receive more positive customer reviews on social media and Google Reviews. The same is true across more informal types of food writing, including blogs and online publications.
Steer clear of these common restaurant mistakes
Despite their attempts at anonymity, food critics occasionally become recognizable. In some cases, you might receive a tip that a food writer is on your reservation list. If that happens, it’s important to avoid these common mistakes.
- Don’t provide unusual services. If a food critic notices they’re getting preferential treatment, they’re likely to compare it to the service other tables are getting. When the difference is drastic, it can reflect unfavorably on the restaurant.
- Don’t gawk. Ask your servers and front-of-house staff to avoid staring at the critic; aim to create a standard, welcoming experience.
- Don’t interrupt the meal. Avoid the temptation to be overzealous with your service. Instead, give the critic time to taste and enjoy their meal.
- Don’t offer freebies. A trusted food critic with experience won’t accept meals for free. When you make the offer, even if it’s well-intentioned, it may seem like you’re trying to manipulate the situation.
By showing a critic what it’s truly like to dine in your restaurant, you can create a positive and realistic experience. Without excess attention, the reviewers have time to focus on the food – they can appreciate each detail of the restaurant and represent you fairly in their food writing.