Recognizing restaurant reviews

Last Tuesday night at Cleveland’s Market Garden Brewery, known for hosting interesting gatherings, two local editors and MGB’s owner discussed restaurant trends and restaurant criticism, in particular.

 

The audience (members of the Society of Professional Journalists) asked good questions. I brought up Yelp.com, suggesting that the review site rendered publications that waited six months to review a restaurant pointless. Cleveland.com’s Joe Crea and Cleveland Magazine‘s Kim Schneider acknowledged with some chagrin that the websites made waiting to review a restaurant difficult.

 

Schneider, who edits the magazine’s food section, nonetheless said the long deadlines at the monthly precluded reviewing shortly after an opening. As a result, the pub’s reviewers now write a “more of a profile” of the restaurant instead of a straight review, she added.

 

That’s sad, because the chef or owner gets the upper-hand, boasting about how great his or her place is, and the reviewer is likely to be swayed by these comments. Indeed, she may have even posed a softball question to elicit remarks like the ones below, from a “review” in the current issue:

 

“Passion is the impetus behind all his labors, says Monday. ‘Coming in to work each morning, you literally have an empty plate in front of you,’ he says. ‘You make everything from scratch, putting love into everything you make. It’s brutal work, and sometimes you get your ass kicked. But at the end of the day, you go home knowing you’ve done a great job. That’s hospitality. That’s what keeps us going.'”

 

Yeah, sure. Monday may well be telling the truth as he sees it. But he’s undoubtedly aware that he’s talking to a reporter.  Worse yet, quotes like that make it tough for the magazine’s “critic” to suggest otherwise in the review. And, no surprise, the reviewer doesn’t.

 

Here’s the review’s final graf: “With a chef-driven menu, a well-designed space and wallet-friendly prices, Monday has created a restaurant that satisfies everyone from the seasoned gourmets to on-the-go families.” A copywriter couldn’t improve on that sentence.

From left: Sam McNulty, Joe Crea and Kim Schnieder

Bad, bad Yelp. From left: Sam McNulty, Joe Crea and Kim Schnieder at Market Garden Brewery. They discussed local restaurant trends at an event sponsored by the Society for Professional Journalists.

McNulty, meanwhile,claimed he enjoyed reading restaurant reviews, of his restaurant as well as others. His criterion: That they be well-written.

 

My criterion is that a review of a restaurant looks out for consumer, not the restaurant operator.