When you're called on to review new restaurants, you are given a large responsibility. Your observations and commentary will influence the new business in ways that can impact its ongoing success or failure. As a food lover, you may be tempted to just settle back and enjoy the event. As a writer and reporter, your responsibility requires that you treat your visit to new restaurants as a job. Sometimes you will have to make tough calls about what to publish and what to leave out. The most important quality you can exhibit in your critique is honesty. Whether your audience is made up of a large readership or just a small community, the words you use make a difference to future restaurant patrons' expectations. Both the customers and the business owner rely on you to give a critique that is straightforward and unclouded by preconceived notions.
Make reservations well in advance. It is inappropriate to pull a sneak review of new restaurants by arriving without a reservation and demanding to be seated. In larger cities and metropolitan areas, it is standard practice to use an alternate name when you are making the reservations, especially if you are a well-known critic and you suspect that may gain you extraordinary treatment.
Bring along one or more dining companions when you visit new restaurants. This will give you the opportunity to taste the items they order as well as your own food. With new restaurants it is especially important to sample a variety of dishes to determine if the quality is consistent across all sections of the menu. If you can obtain a menu in advance, make selections for you and your guests to order so that you are able to sample representative food from each category. Alternatively, suggest that your guests follow your lead and order items that are distinctly different in order to generate a complete critique.
Observe the location of the restaurant and the availability of nearby parking or other transportation methods. Look carefully at the exterior, signage and the entrance to new restaurants so that you can set the stage for your critique readers. Many readers will want to know about the ambience of new restaurants because it will influence their choice of when to visit. New restaurants may have a casual tone, an upscale vibe or a family-friendly atmosphere. It is your job to paint a clear picture of the physical attributes of the place as much as what you convey about the food.
Interaction with the staff of new restaurants can reveal interesting facts to include in your critique. The front desk staff can verify details about the hours of opening, the type of clientele that frequent the restaurant so far and any news of celebrities or well-known guests that may dine there. Your wait staff will also give an indication of how new restaurants fare in training and professionalism. If there is a separate bar area, find time to visit with the bartender and be prepared to critique any highlights or pitfalls that you spot in that area of the restaurant.
Be generous with your praise in any area where it is deserved. New restaurants may gain inspiration to continue their best practices and improve on difficult areas based on your words. While it is your responsibility to provide a critique for your readers, you also have the opportunity to influence the food culture in your region by what you say regarding new restaurants.
Be sure to leave an appropriate tip for your wait staff.
Write an outline of your critique as promptly as possible after leaving new restaurants. This will help you capture the moment clearly. Depending on your deadline, you will be able to add observations and expand the wording of your article a little later.
Sources and Citations
Professional Feature Writing, Bruce Garrison, 2009