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August 30, 2022

Advice for Restaurants From Restaurant Critics

How to deal with food media and the restaurant review process, according to the critics.

Words: Bill Addison, Max Brearley, Pat Nourse, Besha Rodell

If you want a review:

Don’t pummel a critic’s email inbox or Instagram DM with pleas for a review. If you put forth a menu that isn’t the same as every other restaurant that's cooking similar cuisine— if you’re going for anything that has real heart and shows real chops, that comes across as the food you’d want to make for yourself and your friends — the critic will surely come to you. – Bill Addison, LA Times

This is going to sound ridiculous, and I understand it’s even a bit unfair, but (at least in Melbourne) you’re more likely to be reviewed if you’re open on Sunday, Monday or Tuesday night. There are so few restaurants open on those nights, and I have so much eating to do, it’s incredibly hard to cram it all into Thursday-Saturday. Especially if I want some weekend down time (haha, what’s that?). Look, this alone isn’t a reason to open on those nights, and I know staffing is a huge issue for everyone right now. But it’s also true. – Besha Rodell, The Age

Asking, or even demanding (as has happened on rare occasions), that you’re reviewed is unlikely to work. There are better ways to approach it. Making critics or editors aware of your work puts you on the radar for review and features. A PR firm could be the easiest way to do that but consider doing it yourself. Something light, personal and direct from an owner or chef is far more powerful than just another hyperbole packed email from a PR firm.   – Max Brearley, Between Meals

Trends are trends for a reason, but try to differentiate yourself.

If you want a good review:

There used to be dishes known as “critic bait” – offal, raw fish, the more daring the better. Now it seems like every menu is made exclusively of dishes that would have been critic bait 15 years ago. I love kingfish crudo as much as the next person, but by God, there has to be another raw fish dish you could make. All this to say, trends are trends for a reason, but try to differentiate yourself. It is very hard to write something compelling about the exact same dishes you’re being served in every restaurant.

Also? Be nice to your staff. I don’t think I’m alone in being incredibly tuned in to the emotional resonance of a room, especially a dining room (as an ex-restaurant manager, it was part of my job then and I think it’s part of my job now). A miserable staff is palpable, and even if they’re doing everything right out of fear, it’s a far different vibe then them doing everything right because they’re valued and encouraged. – Besha Rodell, The Age 

If you know a critic is in the house:

Seat them in the section with the server who is the best at their job and is very unimpressed with critics. Do not send out free food. Do not hover. It’s ridiculous to think that you won’t feel anything but the most extreme pressure, but do your utmost to make the meal calm and seamless without showing them any extra fuss. – Bill Addison, LA Times

Don’t neglect your other customers when a critic is in. There’s perhaps an impulse to go nuclear on that one table, but a critic will be watching the entire restaurant. They’re asking themselves are people getting served, are they happy? 

Unless your service model is that your chefs serve at the table, we don’t want to see the head chef at the table during the meal. That goes for owners who don’t usually work the floor. It can be super awkward, sometimes icky, and even passive aggressive. – Max Brearley, Between Meals.

Cook for your guests. Every single one of them is a critic, any single one of them could be your next champion. A restaurant full of regulars is best reward of all. – Pat Nourse, Melbourne Food & Wine, recovering restaurant critic.

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