Compared to reviews on Yelp, Urbanspoon, etc., food bloggers are considerably more reliable. In the blog format, an online visitor who consistently frequents their website is able to align their culinary opinions with the blogger whereas on Yelp a visitor has no way to determine if a review is fair or partial. But food bloggers are not exempt from the pitfalls of amateur reviewing. As we shall see, a food blogger’s judgment in many ways is inferior to an established print media critic. Yet as the internet becomes more pervasive, playing an ever-larger role in decisions, bloggers are a growing source of influence. But most, when it comes down to it, are amateurs. Without question, there is variation amongst bloggers and some may be on par with food critics found in print. Nevertheless, those exceptions are far and few between.
Food critics who work for newspapers and magazines normally have a level of training or education that sets them apart from bloggers. While this may be dismissed by some who suppose that everyone is entitled to their opinion, a lack of education can have many real world implications on the actual evaluation presented to the reader. The truth is that most bloggers don’t have back-of-the-house experience nor do they know their way around the kitchen of a gourmet restaurant. It severely handicaps them. Without insight into food preparation and presentation, a food blogger cannot locate problem areas nor convey to their readers accurate descriptions of their food. A food critic’s approach is not to make decisions for readers. Instead through writing about what the food tastes like and what the dining experience is like, they attempt to communicate the experience. They are experts at this. Food bloggers, at their worst, act like onlookers at the coliseum, thumbs up or down, without nuance. And almost never do food bloggers accomplish what top food critics pull off—that is, they enrich the dining experience for the reader beyond giving simple suggestions. That takes the keen writing skill. Additionally, this is only possible if the writer has a sufficient degree of food acumen and an ability to write exciting yet truthful comparisons.
A food critic takes into consideration other people’s preferences. Although something may not be to their liking, they are authorities at predicting what other people may enjoy. They can do this because they know the culinary issues that underlie every food, like whether a chocolate chip cookie should be made with a pinch of salt. Indeed, what also can be immensely important is the knowledge of different ethnic cuisines that a critic possesses. Some food is made to American’s liking but doesn’t represent the true article (even though many would prefer an authentic dish). Rarely is there a food blogger that can match the deep learning that comes with systematic training and education.
Much is at stake when someone reputed, whether a blogger or critic, gives a review. The amount of business a restaurant receives is partially a product of reviews. Granted word of mouth always trumps print. Still, good reviews move customers to action while bad reviews repulse customers. So food bloggers from what I can tell do not take their responsibility as seriously as they should. A critic is careful to note his or her thoughts immediately, if not on paper than in some other format. Critics do research so that they are qualified to discuss the history of the restaurant and where the restaurant fits in the larger culinary context.
Two things particularly distinguish food critics and separate them from more amateur attempts. Food critics visit a restaurant several times. And normally they don’t pay for it. This all creates the most objective appraisal possible. Whereas bloggers tend to be holistic, restaurant critics can afford to be measured. They are not in the recommendation business. They suit their prescription for the audience and reader’s taste.
One can see the danger in the rise of food blogging. Hopefully, the bloggers with talents akin to food critics establish themselves and the poorer attempts fall by the wayside. As much as customers need to know what to expect, restaurants need reviews to correlate with what the quality of the restaurant. With the fate of restaurants hanging in the balance, there is too much at stake for error.
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