All retailers must endure critique but none more than restaurateurs. Every patron believes to be an expert and feels free to criticize. Right or wrong restaurateurs must listen politely, but popular, credible and large-circulation newspaper restaurant critiques are most feared.
A popular critique can inflict considerable financial damage to any food establishment. Most are lenient and give a restaurateur two or even three chances before printing a negative assessment.
Food critiques possess a variety of educational and professional backgrounds, and tend to have different standards. Many also seem to confuse what they dislike, with failure. A properly cooked calf’s liver may displease a critique because of its taste and texture but it has nothing to do with a failed effort.
By and large critiques mean well and evaluate on criteria most patrons use – is the food served hot or cold as required, does it taste good, is the presentation thoughtful and appealing, the portion size appropriate, service flawless, caring and appropriately paced, does the restaurant offer a sufficiently wide choice of beverages, and does it provide a comfortable environment.
Food critiques in general report truthfully and do the best of their ability and knowledge. On occasion they may fault the taste and texture of a sauce with which they are unfamiliar.
Practically all critiques have never worked in a commercial kitchen and lack the knowledge of their inner workings their limitations and capabilities. (A commercial kitchen is a plant of highly perishable products that must be produced on demand, under pressure and delivered within seconds of preparation).
Many factors play a role in the delivery of dishes, starting with purchasing, storage, production, service, and finally human frailties must me considered.
The taste of the food depends much on the mood of the cook. Food happens to be a product subject to a number of variables, including seasonality, exposure to heat and its intensity, shape and thickness of cooking vessel, quantity of ingredients, barometric pressure and good judgement.
Ideally, a dish should taste the same all the time, but this is not always possible, unless it is processed and frozen. Often recipes originating in distant countries or regions are specific to a season. In fact in many Mediterranean countries, people eat according to seasonal availability except possibly for cheese and some meats.
Ideally retired chefs would make good food critiques, but few attempt it. Most had enough of restaurant food, other like to enjoy their retirement and many lack a literary writing style.
Critiques claim to evaluate based on:
Food quality and taste
Ambience and décor
Value for money
If quality of both food and service is consistently good a restaurateur had no reason to fear any critique, and ultimately the market is the ultimate arbiter of value for money.
Quality, however, is a variable, and a notion difficult to define as it changes from one individual to the next. Taste standards depend very much on upbringing, educational and social background and training. What passes for high quality may be unacceptable to another?
Critiques claim to be aware of this and shy away from negative ratings so long as the food is not totally undercooked or burnt, salad leaves oxidized, and limp, the soup scorched, and dessert absolutely tasteless.
Restaurant must deliver food as promised and adhere to the principles of truth in menu. A Dover sole means fish caught in or around the Channel, and Atlantic Salmon means the fish comes from there.
A popular critique can make or break a restaurant and accordingly must be considerate enough to refrain from evaluation until after the establishment had a chance to iron out problems inherent with every opening.
The restaurant business is a retail and detail business requiring considerable personal attention to very patron. A restaurant is a plant, warehouse, and retail operation where all employees must be constantly alert, courteous, friendly and go out of their way to please patrons. They must be gracious under pressure and never rude regardless of circumstance.
Each retail business has its own peculiarities but none more than restaurants.
Montrealers expect a somewhat different restaurant product than do Torontonians and Haligonians. In Montreal food quality comes first, followed by service, ambience and finally value for money. On the other hand Torontonians regard value for money as moist important followed by service, ambience and food quality.
An astute restaurateur treats all his/her patrons with respect and equally well.
For a seasoned restaurateur the term VIP does not exist. Every patron is a VIP since all pay the same price.
Critiques want to be treated as regular patrons and expect to be served as everyone else.
If a negative review appears, a seasoned restaurateur interviews managerial staff immediately gathering important information. Ideally he/she or a trusted employee should be on duty each peak period.
If the critique is justified corrective action must be taken immediately, and all other shortcomings corrected as soon as practicable. Once all problems are solved the critique should be invited to review the establishment.
Needless to say editors must insist that critiques are beyond reproach and write truthfully.
Some restaurateurs decide to ban critiques, which is patently wrong.
A restaurateur must be able to accept justified criticism, and in fact welcome it. The secret is to immediately correct all shortcomings in an attempt to run a successful operation.