Anyone can write a review online these days. And John Dorsey, The Sun’s esteemed restaurant reviewer before Elizabeth Large’s heyday, probably saw it coming before his death in 2008.
I’m thinking about John because, over the weekend, I found some reviewers’ guidelines he wrote years ago when I worked for the newspaper and wrote reviews for The Sun’s quarterly "Dining Guide." They still hold true today.
I hope you’ll indulge me as I share some of them. They show John’s wit and expertise. These are his words:
1. The first piece of advice is, don’t put off [visiting the restaurants] to the last minute. If you do, it won’t be fun, but sickening.
2. While your opinions are entirely your own concern, if you make the slightest factual error, especially if you haven’t been altogether favorable, the restaurant will pounce upon it like a starving lion set loose in a cage with Bambi.
3. Generally, I think Wednesday or Thursday are the best nights for reviewing.
4. Make [the reservation] in the name of someone who’s going with you or some other rememberable name. My most miserable moment in this job was when I walked up to the matre d’ and said I had made a reservation and he asked me what my name was and I couldn’t remember.
5. I do not think you should use the opportunity of an expense account to charge the paper for an expensive bottle of wine.
6. There are a thousand things one can say about the food, but basically they are all aspects of one question: is it good?
7. The reviewer must taste everything. Everyone’s appetizer, entree, vegetables, salad, dessert. (This job is beginning to sound less appetizing, right?) You don’t base a review on asking your companion how it is and he or she says delicious or oh fair or yuck and you write that down.
8. Unless something is clearly horrible—you can smell the fish while it’s still 10 feet from the table, or the waiter mistakes you for his wife’s lover and pours a pot of hot coffee over your head—grin and bear it. …. And above all, don’t mention that you are from a newspaper.
9. When you get the check, leave a good tip. … I tend to be a little generous. If I’m going to complain about this or that, I want them to remember that at least the Sun’s reviewer wasn’t a cheapskate.
10. I like to try and be a little light in these mini-reviews; I don’t mean bad jokes at the restaurant’s expense, but pomposity or anger get stale awfully fast.
What do you think? Do these guidelines still work today?
Photo courtesy of Robert Armacost