As food writers, we live in a little bubble. We visit restaurants, get to know people in the industry and advise people on where to eat. Or not. We tend to know what's happening long before the average person and move on to the next great thing faster than a hipster gloms on to a new trend. But in the age of the everyman posting their $0.02 on "review" sites like Yelp, how important are we anymore? At least, how important are anonymous reviewers?
At Eater, we don't do reviews. We report about the goings-on in our city's food world like what restaurants are opening and what chefs stormed out during service. But other outlets retain their covert food critics and Chicago's Jeff Ruby wonders: "Should I remain anonymous?"
It's an intriguing question and honestly, we think he should. Having people like Ruby or the Trib's Phil Vettel or Time Out Chicago's David Tamarkin do their jobs the way they do can keep restaurants in check and staff on alert. Or rather, not. Because this way, a restaurant's staff treats critics like everyone else, as it should be. We have definitely been offered free meals when new restaurants open, and know what it's like to be given preferential treatment. Anonymous critics can go in and avoid the song and dance and simply dine.
And these professionals give us an honest take of a dining experience. They often hit a place two or three times to ensure consistency and that their bad meal wasn't just the result of an off night. Their readers don't have to worry about wondering whether they should trust the review like you might on Yelp. So Mr. Ruby, we say stay hidden. Keep up the great work. We need people like you.
· Anonymous Restaurant Reviewing: Journalistic Gold Standard or Antiquated Parlor Game? [Chicago]
[Photo: Unlike Jeff Ruby, LA Times critic S. Irene Virbila was famously outed last year]