Friday, April 15, 2005

[Reviews] Restaurant reviews

I’m sure that everyone has their own way of dealing with restaurant reviews, some more successful than others. I wanted to put these questions out there to see how other food bloggers deal with their reviews. When doing a restaurant review, do you ever let them know that you are writing a review of their restaurant on your blog? If so, do you do it before or after the meal? If not, how do you explain the fervent writing of notes and picture taking during your meal? What is considered respectful and courteous?


Sam said...

This is a very good and interesting question. Off the top of my head I would answer as follows.

For me, the integrity of my blog depends on my anonymity. I would never announce I am reviewing a restaurant. Not before, not after, not ever.

Neither do I write lots of notes. Afterall, I am there to enjoy myself. Having a copy of the menu helps a lot after the fact for a reminder of the food and the prices.
You can check before you go to see if they have their menu online. If not, you could take a picture of their menu outside the restaurant to serve as a reminder. I prefer to do this on the way out rather on the way in so I won;t draw attention to myself before the meal.

If there is no menu posted outside, I might try to take a photo of the menu inside. This is tricky. I am not worried about the beauty or composition of this picture, i just need to have the essentials on screen. With digital, you know it will be hi res and you can later zoom in to see what the menu was. I would be as subtle and quick as possible.

I often ask if I might keep the menu. Where there is a daily changing menu they are more likely to say yes. I try not to make a big deal of it. I just cheerily say "hey, would you mind if I keep the menu." I don't think I have ever been refused when I have asked. No one has asked me what I want it for.

Taking pictures is a tricky question. I recently got a nasty response from a restaurant I blogged about where I had taken some pictures of their food. The pictures were actually lovely, but they accused me of being a thief. I am not sure of the legality of taking pictures of restaurant food and posting it on the web, I would like to make that the subject of another post. I removed those pictures from my blog because I didn't want to be sued. I left the review (which was not entirely complimentary) because all I had done was to tell the truth. I doubt I can be sued for telling the truth. I think the reason they got upset with me wasn't because of the photos, but because I had made a negative critique of their food.

Back to the phots. It all depends on the place and the situation. I just try to be as subtle as possible, making sure my camera is already set up for the prevalent lighting conditions with no flash set. If I am a larger group it doesn't look so odd that I am taking pictures, I treat it as if we are a group of people who are getting together and the event needs to be recorded.

Sometimes, actually often, I write a review without taking pictures at all. Especially for evening dining. On those occasions I might take a pic of the outside of the restaurant so that I can use it to illustrate my blog post.

I always carry a little black notebook with me incase I do need to jot down the odd quote or two. Especially when a dining partner makes an interesting statement I know would be good in the blog. I also often make a point of writing the name and year of the wine down, as this is something that a restaurant would find quite reasonable.

I also ask lots of questions about the food to the wait staff and make strong mental notes of everything around me.

Hope that helps


Alice said...

Yea, this is tricky for me. I blog just because I want to take pictures of food and not because I want to review restaurants. If I'm not going to take pictures, I might as well not blog about the place, since I really don't have much to offer in terms of restaurant reviewing skills. I am trying to make it a point to ask before shooting, both to my fellow diners and to the waitstaff. At Chapeau!, the Chef was very accomodating and absolutely wonderful through my shooting.

Also, because I am taking pictures, it's pretty obsvious that I am up to something for the restaurants, so the anonymity is gone. I tell them I am a food photographer and not a restaurant reviewer, and that I have a food photoblog. I never shoot at restaurants where I don't like the food. I need to experiment more with flash-less photography. I'm pretty flash-dependent, and it would be nicer if I could go flash-less.

I don't take notes, as I try to capture whatever I like about the dish in the picture. I make a mental note of what I was trying to highlight, and that's usually enough to bring back my thoughts when I blog about it later.

Rachael said...

I stopped taking pictures in restaurants. Other diners find it invasive to their meals, and its just generally frowned upon. (For instance today I was at a place where there were several celebrities eating. I would have been thrown out if I had started taking any sort of shots. Then again, that may be unique to LA...LOL) As for suing you, they cant. Unless there is a posted sign saying no photography, the meal is something you purchased, and can take all the pictures of you want. Mean spirited or otherwise slanderous reviews are a different story...

Anonymous said...

Fancy places will almost always let you take a menu, and often you'll get one signed by the chef - so ask!

I'll ask for, or shoot the menu, but I'm never serious enough to take notes. If the food is memorable, I usually won't have to. Besides, I try to enjoy the meal, I don't want it to feel like it's a job.

Although last week I had a really good pasta special, and didn't bother to re-ask what kind it was (some sort of ravoili with a funny name). When I get around to writing it up, I might give them a call.


BBQ Junkie said...

Thanks a lot, all of your input has definitely shed some light on this topic.

sarah said...

i pretty much echo everyone here. i never ever tell the restaurant that i am going to post a message about their restaurant - then it gets know, just weird. a chef once emailed me and said, let him know when i come in again so he could do something "special," but i didn't. i'd rather get to know the chef as a regular customer, and keep the blog stuff out of it.

i totally take pictures in restaurants if it's not going to be overly obnoxious to the other diners, or to the rest of my own group. usually, my friends think it's quite fun, so they already have a routine - give sarah the plate, let her snap a photo, then we eat. and of course, if it's a "date," well, i restrain myself from taking pictures...haha!

on the menu - ever since forever ago, it's been my hobby to collect menus and if it's a notable chef or restaurant, then i ask for chef's's never been a problem.

Suebob said...

"mean-spirited or slanderous reviews are another story..."

Just a nitpicking point: slander is spoken, libel is written.

Opinion is protected speech in the US and I imagine any restauranteur would have a hard time making a case against you for publishing one.

You would do well to label it "review" or "opinion" though.

Ironically, hyperbole is more protected than regular speech because it is understood not to be taken seriously. So you are better off saying "The shrimp smelled like a hot day at a Marseilles garbage dump" than "The shrimp smelled rotten."

tool pouch said...

different time and person has their own point of view. its not like every resto has same chef that cook.

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QueriesonFoodsandHealth said...

"If so, do you do it before or after the meal?"

If we consider the right ethics with regards to this question, it is still better to tell the restaurant before eating their meal, however, if you really want to have a more natural review, it is good to tell them afterwards. Anyway, both of these actions have their own advantages and down sides. :)

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Peny@custom embroidered shirts said...

"When doing a restaurant review, do you ever let them know that you are writing a review of their restaurant on your blog?"

I guess, ethically speaking, it is better to let them know that you are making a review of their restaurants. :)