Should food critics be anonymous? Or is it a pipe dream in the age of blogs and Facebook?
In the food writing community, a commentary by Chicago Magazine critic Jeff Ruby is getting a lot of people talking.
It’s a question the publisher of Minnesota Monthly asked me about a couple months ago, assuming that because of my job as a reporter/anchor at WCCO-TV, everyone at every restaurant knows me. He wondered if I got preferential service because of that.
The writers at the other magazines in town don’t even attempt to be anonymous. Should we think less of their reviews?
Dara Grumdahl, as you probably know, is legendary for the crazy wigs she wears in public, in order to protect her anonymity. I would argue that Dara and Rick are probably more well known in the best Minnesota restaurants than I am as a TV guy, as anyone who’s been visiting restaurants and reviewing them for more than ten years is pretty easy to pick out.
That said, I’ve been to lunch with Dara at places where I guarantee no one knew her. And I have a pretty good radar for this stuff—I can only think of one of the suburban restaurants that I’ve written about in the magazine that had someone who recognized me. I suspect they had no idea I was there to write about the place though.
Plus, a crappy restaurant isn’t magically going to become good because they think a food writer is there.
However, at most of the top tier Minneapolis restaurants I do know the chefs and some of the waitstaff, because I was getting to know those people before I started writing for Minnesota Monthly. Do I get better service? I think restaurant owners are lying if they say they give everyone top shelf service and food. I’d guess I am treated better than the average person who’s a first-time visitor to a restaurant.
So what to make of all of this? Should critics be anonymous? Does it matter?
My take: I suspect it’s going to be awful hard in the future for critics to be totally anonymous. Too many of us have a huge treasure chest of Facebook pictures and Google images with our faces on it. How will the college kids of today who become the writers of tomorrow be hidden?
There’s something noble about trying to replicate the experience the average diner would have when they go to a restaurant. I just wonder if it’s more of a show—than a reality.