The Association of Food Journalists is an educational organization which “promotes high ethical standards in food writing, editing, and restaurant criticism”. It’s membership roster reads like a who’s who of food writers from newspapers, magazines and even bloggers from around the world. Until recently their guidelines which hadn’t been updated in many years, have seemed out of step with the times. Now, a rewrite has brought them more up to date.
The revised guidelines state that “true anonymity is often no longer possible.” They advise critics to keep their social media profiles photo-free and restrict public appearances, and they state that critics “should make every attempt to arrive at restaurants unannounced and maintain as low a profile as possible during their visits.”
The Association of Food Journalists recognizes that many critics are also tasked with reporting on restaurants. Critics should discuss with their editors which role is most important, since a critic’s position precludes him or her from participating in the food community as a reporter might. Critics should avoid functions that restaurateurs and chefs are likely to attend, such as grand openings, restaurant anniversary dinners, wine tastings or new product introductions. Critics should also avoid in-person meetings with publicists.
If a critic writes about restaurants, restaurant owners or chefs, he or she should strive to conduct interviews by phone.
The guidelines go on to say that reviewers use caller id, maintain multiple identities on reservation sites, and,
“Two or more visits to a restaurant are ideal for the purposes of full-length reviews. Service, food quality and atmosphere can vary, sometimes quite dramatically, from day-to-day. Multiple visits give the critic a better understanding of the restaurant, helping him or her to more accurately gauge its rhythm and spirit.
When only one visit is possible, it is best to attempt to have the most typical experience diners will be seeking out at a restaurant. Do not visit at lunch to write about a restaurant specializing in dinner; if the restaurant’s specialty is a tasting menu, it would be best to order that instead of à la carte if it is financially possible. If writing a full-length review on the basis of a single visit, acknowledge the situation in the review.”
Other key guidelines: ratings scales, negative reviews, free meals/dishes, gift certificates, and that a critic should “wait at least one month after the restaurant starts serving before visiting.”
If, however, a restaurant must be visited because of timeliness, enormous reader interest or journalistic competitiveness, consider offering readers “first impressions.” This piece should be more descriptive than critical, avoid labeling it as a review if possible. The emphasis of such a sneak preview could be on the fledgling restaurant’s clientele, its decor and maybe the chef’s background rather than a blow-by-blow account of the menu (though food would, of course, be mentioned.)
In recognition of the diverse and changing opinions on waiting periods, it’s ideal to acknowledge in your review when you visited the restaurant. Did you go on the first day? Did you wait three months? Say so.
These updates were sorely needed. You can read them in their entirety here.