Thursday, 11 September 2014

Everyone's a Restaurant Critic...

It would appear these days that no matter where you are in Ireland, if you throw a stone, you'll hit a restaurant critic. The spawning of myriad blogs and review sites has meant every man and his dog now has an opinion, and isn't afraid to use it. I say this without any hint of irony! 

For my money, those reviewing restaurants in this country can be broadly categorised as follows:

  • Professional critics with a good enough knowledge of food, wine & restaurants to write about the subject.
  • Professional critics with sketchy knowledge who could just as easily be writing about travel or gardening.
  • Bloggers with a good enough knowledge of food, wine & restaurants to write about the subject.
  • Bloggers who like going out but don't know very much at all about food, wine or restaurants.
  • Joe Public keyboard warriors who can't wait to get home from a restaurant to fire up Trip Advisor or Yelp.

Let's start with the professionals. Like any profession, some are stronger than others in their chosen field. It should be borne in mind that the role of a professional critic is to write entertaining copy as much as express their opinions. 

We have some excellent critics here but I certainly enjoy the writing of some more than others, even if I don't always agree with their opinions. Some I don't bother reading at all. I was once asked by a professional critic if they could have their beef cheek cooked medium with the "gravy" on the side. Safe to say they fall into category two above.

Blogs in the UK have emerged as a very powerful force in the industry. Bloggers such as Elizabeth on Food and Andy Hayler are taken every bit as seriously by top restaurants, as any of the major print media critics. 

We don't have any blogs here with that kind of power and influence, but there are no shortage of armchair critics. I counted 21 restaurant review blogs without making too much effort. I counted 4 that were worth reading. The rest were either freebie puff pieces or more geared towards booze, the food element being little more than a sideshow.

There are some questionable goings-on between bloggers and restaurants which sparked a huge debate in the UK recently. I hear that similar murky doings are now happening here. I have strong opinions on the issue which will be the subject of an upcoming post.

I save my most bilious contempt for one particular breed of amateur critic. There are people out there who will sit in a restaurant, eat a meal, tell the staff everything was lovely, before shooting home to write a scathing review on Trip Advisor. 

This is wrong on so many levels, but mainly because it is totally unfair on the restaurant who never get an opportunity to address whatever issues arose. Then again, maybe that's not the point.

It also serves to underpin Trip Advisors' reputation as a flawed, skewed and totally untrustworthy source of information. A quick scan of their top 10 restaurants in Dublin will illustrate this point. Nothing against those listed, but if a tourist visiting Dublin relied on this information, they would miss out on most of the best dining options in the city. 

Before anyone screams "hypocrite" and points out that I have recently reviewed a restaurant on this very blog, let me clarify. I have no issue with reviewers, professional or amateur, once their content is honest, informed, and readable. Reviews can give restaurants the oxygen of publicity that they may otherwise be starved of. 

From my own perspective, my review was a once off but I took the responsibility seriously and my views were 100% honest. I feel strongly that people should do likewise when posting their opinions in any public forum. 

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