The Association of Food Journalist’s is considering changes to better compete in an online world. In these days of Yelp, food blogs, twitter and other instant “reviews”, newspaper reviewers are beginning to wonder if the time-honored rule of waiting at least one month before reviewing a restaurant is still valid.
Under the traditional standards of restaurant criticism, I should have waited another week or so before even darkening Isabella’s doorway for the first time.
According to the official critics’ guidelines espoused by the esteemed Association of Food Journalists, “reviewers should wait at least one month after the restaurant starts serving before visiting. These few weeks give the fledgling enterprise some time to get organized.”
In the abstract, the rule seems fair. Restaurants are not films, after all; there is no post-production period to iron out the kinks before unveiling the finished product to the public. With food service, adjustments generally take place on the fly in real time. Critics ought to wait long enough to let the joint get settled before telling the world whether it’s worth the trip.
The guidelines, it seems, are about the only aspect of food media that hasn’t changed. These days, a new restaurant is able to access vast new media resources in order to pump up its reputation from day one—or even before it. The Web lets foodies learn about new restaurants before a lease is even signed. Blogs offer sneak-peak photos of the décor as soon as the dust settles, posting the full menu the moment it becomes available. Many places are packed on opening night; long gone are the days when a restaurant didn’t see a packed house until a newspaper chimed in.
The restaurant industry’s PR people have taken advantage of the change. Which makes me wonder whether the pros ought to change their rules, too. Given that many professional food critics used to see themselves as the paid protectors of said diners—zealously guarding their culinary dollar against mediocre food and subpar service—are those who still follow the traditional timetable essentially fighting with one fork tied behind their backs?
DeMasters says her organization is pondering that same question. “This will be a topic at the Association of Food Journalists annual conference in Charleston in October,” she says.
What do you think? We’ve discussed how long a reviewer should wait before writing about a restaurant, but times have changed. Should we still wait a few months, or are they fair game the moment they open?