In a world where everyone is now a self-proclaimed journalist, no profession is safe from being undermined by the ‘work for free’ Internet user. With what seems to be the media’s new obsession with ‘foodies’, it is only logical that the next paying profession to be wiped clean off the map is the food critic. With help from such websites as Yelp, Chowhound, and UrbanSpoon.com, not even the smallest mom and pop restaurant is safe from the self- titled “citizen journalist”.
User-generated content undoubtedly gave the Internet its vitality, but issues have arisen which undermine the credibility and ethics of the published material. In this week’s blog I will explore the power struggle between the countless benefits and detrimental impacts of restaurant review websites on restaurant owners, paying costumers, food critics and everyone in between.
It used to be that a restaurant would open, and a food critic would come for a meal approximately six weeks later. They would get premium service along with the best meal possible. This visit would result in a review in the critic’s respective publication, which would be held to some regard of accuracy by the readers, making or breaking a restaurant. Modern technology has changed this entire process. Restaurant reviews are now conducted every single day. Everyone is a critic. This has led to more pressure on the restaurant’s part to make sure everyone is served properly, which is seemingly great for the customer.
There is literally a review for every restaurant, ice cream shop, fast food chain and deli. If there is an establishment serving food, there is a former costumer writing about it. This has led to great publicity for some eateries, as well as helping hungry people steer clear of what would be terrible experiences. But, are some people too harsh? Everyone has different tastes, and as the saying going ‘one man’s garbage is another man’s treasure’.
I too, just a Rutgers University’s undergraduate, am guilty of this. I have developed a few entries on my own food review blog where I have discussed the good and bad of several New Brunswick establishments. Should anyone take what I have to say seriously? Obviously I do not have the notoriety that certain Internet food bloggers have. The Internet it is a popularity contest, and the more viewers you have, the more you will be taken seriously.
In an interview with a Minnesota Monthly’s food and dining critic Dara Moskowitz Grumdahl she describes the struggles small business owners now face. She discusses the opening of a new Jewish Delicatessen in Minnesota and all the speculation in the foodie world surrounding it, “I was there the first week, along with a thousand people a day — far more than they knew how to deal with”. She continues, “Andrew Zimmern, the local food-world celebrity and international food-world celebrity, with his television show Bizarre Foods, wrote a blog trashing it.” Grumdahl did agree with Zimmern’s review, but explained that it was only because of the overload of people due to the growing hype that did not allow the restaurant to adjust as most new restaurants get to do. “He was totally accurate. But perhaps not measured. In the old, pre-Internet days, the restaurant critic code of conduct basically stated that you gave a restaurant six weeks after opening until you walked in the door — plenty of time to work out the kinks in the system,” she explains. She deemed this a “too early review”.
I believe that user-driven restaurant reviews are great and give people a platform to express their complaints and satisfactions. While helping others make the proper dining decisions, it is also important to take the reviews with a grain of salt. Everyone is not as versed in the world of food and sometimes it’s just more fun to find out for yourself.