Tuesday, August 2, 2011

How much was I paid to say that?

I was reading a fun story on cracked.net about some of the hardest but silliest sounding jobs.  One of these was the restaurant reviewer or food critic. http://www.cracked.com/article_19308_6-silly-sounding-jobs-that-are-way-harder-than-you-think_p2.html

I love the Anthony Bourdain picture at the top of this article...

"Your bad review can ruin some family's business -- and they know where to find you. At least one critic has been threatened with a gun over a bad review. Another has been beaten bloody by the owner's associates (i.e., mob goons) over several bad reviews; to be fair though, he probably shouldn't have posted on his paper's website where he would be dining that night.
You can't think of this as Michael Bay threatening Roger Ebert with a shotgun over a bad review -- they're both famous, that's not going to happen. But as a food critic, you are literally going into enemy territory -- a business owned by some regular guy who you don't know -- assessing the fruits of his labor, and telling everyone in your readership whether or not to give that business their money. That restaurant owner's ability to pay his mortgage can lay on what you write, and you don't know how he's going to react.   
Not wanting to become the next bloody statistic, many a critic will go to work in disguise and assume a false name -- whatever is deemed necessary to stay anonymous."

Now I was thinking about this all weekend.  Everywhere I ate, any foods I looked at and any interesting people and items I saw, I wondered about how valid those above statements are to me and I came up with an interesting revelation about the food world, as a whole:  they don't want the truth.  I've said it before in my defense, but I like to give an exact account of my experience from the moment I walk into the front door to the moment I leave the building.  Everything gets taken into account from the decorations to the bathrooms.  Now the truth is that many magazines, from the RFT to the New Yorker, pay their reviewers to go to a restaurant, eat and then write about the experience.  So, their views may already be tainted because they are getting paid for those restaurants.  Secondly, in some cases, they are comped for their meal, by the restaurant or given other perks.  Would I have liked to have my meal completely paid for when I went to eat at RM: Seafood in Las Vegas?  Yes, but it wouldn't have changed my mind or view of the meal.  For some reviewers and critics, you have to ask them some questions:

Do you get paid to eat at the restaurant?
Who picks the restaurant?
Did the restaurant pay for your meal?
Dis the restaurant pay you for your nice review?
Did the restaurant buy a large ad in your magazine or paper?

The cost of ads in some papers like the RFT or Ladue Times is enough to consider a trade for a nice review.  (I am not suggesting that every restaurant that has a nice review in the RFT, Sauce, Feast or any other magazine or paper in the St. Louis area has paid for their nice review by ad space.)  But it could happen.

I was thinking about this article also when I ran into the local grocery store Saturday Morning.  While in there I noticed the owner of a local restaurant buying his ingredients.  The owner looked tired and still half-sleepy as he had a load of buns, lettuce and a few other small things in his cart.  I did start to feel bad for giving them a bad review, but then cut myself short.  It was bad.  It wasn't me being paid by someone else to say those things and I wasn't being comped for my meal so I was giving an honest experience just as the average person would enjoy or have as well.  The average person cannot afford to eat at Alinea every night, so I pick places I just happen to go to. Also, if you are a restaraunt owner and you had any bad marks in my reviews, there was a reason.  It could have been that your food was saltier than a salt lick, or that it took over an hour to bring out a hamburger or maybe you charged me $12 for something that I could have bought at the local store and made at home in less time and for less than $4.  That is why you are in my blog.  I explain it like this:

If I have someone I know from Texas come to St. Louis and ask me, "where is a good place to go for dinner?" I want to take them or suggest a favorite spot of mine.  This is human nature.  As humans, when we like something, we tend to want to enjoy it again and that suggests that we also like to let our friends enjoy it as well.  So, a good dinner spot in St. Louis?  Well, I have to know how much they want to spent.  You can find great food spots for about $20 a couple for great food and also for not great food.  So, where should I send them?  For less than $20 for some great 5 star food and service I would suggest the Thai House in Columbia, IL, about 10 minutes East of the JB Bridge.  Why?  did I get paid by them?  Did they pay for my kids to go to school?  NO.  They are real people who have a real passion for Thai food of their heritage.  Many times a year their head chef flies back to Thailand to get new recipes and ideas, which is something that some of the "best rated" Thai restaurants in St. Louis do NOT do.  That shows a real passion in the food.

Do you want a meal for about $80 a couple?  Well, what about the Farmhaus in St. Louis City?  Have I been paid to say this? No.  I went there and loved the food and atmosphere. It was a bit expensive for St. Louis but it was great from the start to the end.  If I was like the other reviewers in STL, I would suggest Niche.  But I haven't eaten there yet as I have not been able to make a reservation before 9:30pm.  It doesn't matter what time I call or what I say, but I can't get in.  (I know I could get any time I wanted if I identified myself as a restaurant reviewer and told them that, but that defeats the purpose.)  Its true: if I called and told them that I was a restaurant reviewer, I would have the best seat at the best time and no questions.  But, everyone else will not have that experience, so I will not do it.

A lot of people see this blog and then think to themselves that my ideas, ramblings and thoughts could not be that important.  Many think that if you are not writing for the New Yorker, the RFT or the Post Dispatch that you are not important.  Well, my answer back is simple:  My blog is important because I am NOT in those periodicals. I have not sold out, I was not bought out and my thoughts are my own.  I am allowed to say whatever I want about whoever I want.  I don't care who donated or who bought ad space.  I don't care if you think that just because your grandfather ran a lemonade stand that it qualifies you to run a restaurant.  If you don't have your whole heart and soul into the food then it shows and I will know it.  Maybe you shouldn't be running a restaurant.  I know that there is a huge amount of investment, but if you are doing it just to make money and really not care, then it may not be for you.

No comments:

Post a Comment