Tuesday, July 28, 2009


I've grown fond of watching the show, "Top Chef." I started with the last season in New York, I've continued to watch the "Top Chef: Masters," and am looking forward to this upcoming season in Las Vegas. One of the things that has been more noticeable is the role of the food critics. For those unfamiliar with the show, these well-known food critics evaluate and rate the food that is prepared by the chefs. Everyone is familiar with all the other food critics who may write reviews for your local paper or even magazines.
Anyways, as I watched this show, I realized something: Critics really annoy me! I'm going to throw film critics in here as well. Sure, they serve their purpose, and one could argue that they are needed. However, I would question how much they can really relate with normal society. While there is nothing wrong with being an eloquent writer and possessing a grandiose vocabulary, one could question if that's really necessary in describing food. With "Top Chef" it seems like these writers are trying to impress viewers with how detailed they can describe food and breakout colorful synonyms for the food's consistency, but we're all wondering one thing: was the food good? Why this rant, you may ask? Here's the thing, I know good food, I'm extremely passionate about food, and I like to talk about food, but I'll never be a food critic. Why? Because I'm not a great writer (maybe not even a good writer). So why should writing Hemingway-esque reviews of restaurants matter? I don't know. Apparently, someone somewhere decided that restaurant reviews should be so colorful that no one could read the black-and-white: did you like the restaurant? Many of these critics write/speak with such arrogance about food and restaurants that you might think they were once chefs, but the profession bored them. I tend to think that they weren't quite good enough to write novels so they settled for writing about food. Film critics are exactly the same. There's no need to only give good reviews to independent movies and completely ignore big blockbusters. I don't care what a film critic thinks, I'm going to listen to people I know, not some moron who probably wears an ascot to the movie theater.
This leads me to my next point. Have you ever seen a job opening for a food critic? Before you go surfing on Monster or Craigslist, know this, you won't find anything. No one is looking for a food critic, but they should be. They should be looking for someone who doesn't attempt to impress people with words but attempts to tell the diner about the restaurant itself. What did the food taste like, how was the service, were there a bunch of people taking doggie bags out, etc.
Critics, don't try to garner some great book deal with your local reviews. Remember, you're not a chef, you can't cook as good as one, otherwise you would have a restaurant. I hate seeing chefs stutter around critics and lower their head as they receive a bad review. While reviews are necessary, critics need to get off their high horse and realize they aren't better than everyone just because they didn't have to apply for their job. It most likely fell in their lap.

Author's note: I do believe that there are some good food critics out there, not a lot, just some. I'd love to hear their opinion of the growing popularity of sites like Yelp where "regulars" can provide reviews of restaurants.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Mass Produced Service?

We've all had a bad experience at a restaurant in which we wondered if the waiter/waitress even knew we existed. Perhaps an entire meal passed without water being filled or every other table appeared to receive bread with their meal, except you or they were just flat out rude. Now we can probably account for some bad service being related to someone having a bad day or if you always encounter bad service, you might be the issue; however, there are some serious problems. My simple argument might be that the more you pay, the better service you receive. We all know that's not the case. So what's the problem?
Henry Ford is the father of the assembly line and mass production. He revolutionized the way a factory works. He made production much more efficient and larger quantities were easier to come by. Do you know where I'm going with this? This process should not be carried onto food. If you're making something for a big banquet, okay, that's fine, but at a regular restaurant, unacceptable. At least I wish it was unacceptable. We're used to efficiency and making sure that things can be done faster. Do you really want this approach at a restaurant? Do you want to be treated like a product that comes down the conveyor belt? A customer should be treated like the restaurant is happy to have their service, like the customer is doing them a favor by showing up. There's a great scene in the TV show, That 70's Show (which obviously takes place in the 1970's) where a couple go out to a restaurant (conveniently named, Blannagan's) at the advent of the salad bar. The waiter informs them that they can go up to the salad bar and choose whatever toppings they'd like. The couple is baffled and the husband asks why his wife would want to go out to a restaurant and make her own salad when she could do that at home. Why don't we question this anymore? Go get your own food? No, I go out because I don't want to make my own food. I want to feel like I'm paying for something other than groceries.
I understand that being a waiter/waitress is not an enjoyable job and not necessarily something one aspires to do. However, it's still a job that you're being paid to do. There are restaurants out there that value the customer and value service towards them. Rather than having the attitude of "You need us to eat," these places have the attitude of "We need you to eat." The obsession with big business and the bottom line every night obscures many restaurants from providing quality service and ensuring long term success and customer loyalty. Oddly enough, all restaurants thrive on the customer coming into eat there. If you think about it, do all restaurants act like the customer is their raison d'etre? No, the customer is a product that needs to be quickly shot through the line so the next product can be prepped. Try this the next time you have people over. Greet them gruffly at the door, take away their salad before they're done, serve dinner before they're ready, and keep looking at the door until they leave. See if they return.