In the restaurant industry, food critics can make you or break you. While a bad review could seriously damage your chances of attracting new customers, a good review can have new customers waiting hours just to get a table.
Tips for Impressing a Food Critic
Everyone is a potential food critic.
Food critics like to remain anonymous, so you may not know when one walks through your door. Furthermore, with the increasing popularity of online review sites like Yelp, Citysearch, Dine.com and Google Reviews, any customer can become a food critic.
Do not over-coddle a critic.
There is nothing wrong with giving known food critics some special treatment, and if a recognized food critic eats at your restaurant, you could have management “check up” on him briefly during or after the meal. But do not offer a free meal or extra menu items, and make sure that you do not bother a critic too much during the meal. If you seem to be trying too hard, food critics might think you are compensating for some deficiency. If they look around and see that others are not getting the same level of service, they will grow even more suspicious.
Let your food speak for itself.
You can try offering food critics your best dish, but do not try to convince a food critic that the food is better than it really is. The more you pressure someone, the more likely you will push them further away.
Be receptive to criticism.
If a food critic is eating at your restaurant and begins to critique or complain about the food, service or atmosphere, graciously accept the criticism, and do anything in your power to fix the problem immediately. The worst thing you can do is become defensive. On the other hand, if you fix the problem, you may win some points with them for your superior customer service.
What Food Critics Consider
It is not just about the food. Food critics will judge different aspects of your restaurant operation, so make sure to impress them in every area.
Taste. By far the most important element that the critic will judge is the taste of the food.
Technique. The more difficult the food is to make, the more likely it will impress a food critic, as long as the taste lives up to the technique.
Presentation. The appearance of food can make or break a dish. If a meal looks unappetizing, it can even effect the way the taste is perceived.
Creativity. You can win extra points with a food critic by offering originality in your dishes, your presentation or your atmosphere.
Service. Food critics will notice how much attention servers give customers, how quickly customers’ service expectations are met, how friendly the servers are and how knowledgeable the waitstaff is about the food and drinks offered.
Value. Even if a critic enjoys a dish, if it is overpriced, your restaurant could receive a review that mentions outrageous pricing.
Atmosphere and décor. In addition to critiquing the food, critics will almost always mention the atmosphere, design and comfort of a restaurant.
Cleanliness. While offering a clean dining area will probably not be enough on its own to get you a great review, any dirty aspects of your restaurant will probably earn you a bad review no matter what.
Meeting of expectations. Food critics know that not every restaurant is the same. They will have different expectations for different restaurants. What a critic expects from your restaurant has a lot to do with your selling proposition. Ask yourself what expectations are created by your branding and marketing concept, and make sure you fulfill them.
How to Recognize a Professional Food Critic
The best way to recognize a professional food critic is simply to keep up-to-date with the names and faces of local and regional reviewers, and make sure that the entire staff does so as well. However, food critics usually try to remain anonymous, and some will go to great lengths to do so, including wearing disguises or even using credit cards under a fake name. If you suspect someone might be a food critic, look for the following clues:
Professional food critics will probably try to hide the notes they are taking. They may use a palm-size computer or cell phone, scribble on a napkin, or even take a couple of restroom breaks or “breathers” to take notes away from the table.
If someone is using a camera or holding their cell phone close to the food, they may be trying to take pictures for an online or print review.
If customers are paying very close attention to your restaurants’ food or operations, they might be professional food critics. Even if they are not professional reviewers, their scrutiny suggests that they are picky customers, and they may even plan to write an online review or blog about your restaurant.