How restaurant reviews are created

IT’s a question that seems to arise with amazing regularity – how do food writers go about their business? Do the restaurants know they being reviewed and, most importantly, does money change hands?
So in the interests of transparency, I’ve decided to detail how I go about the process, perhaps dispel a few myths and make it harder for the blaggers and bluffers out there.
I’m seeing this as a work in progress so please feel free to add any thoughts through the comments and I’ll update it if other questions spring to mind.
Anatomy of a food review: FAQs
1. Does the restaurant pay?
Normal practice is that the publisher of the material pays for the journalists’ work. Obviously a payment, or payment in kind (free meal, drinks etc), from the restaurant would make it harder for the review to be impartial. All reviews on my blog and those I provide for the print editions are written without any money from the venue being paid.
2. What about launch events or other occasions?
There are times when food is laid on for free as part of an event. I cover these differently, as news events, and so they are not treated as a full review of the food, more an assessment of the style of the venue. It would be unfair to review an establishment on the basis of what is offered at one of these occasions – it may not be typical of the menu generally and the staff will probably be under unusual pressure for the event. In my reviews I attempt to portray the typical experience a diner might expect in order to provide them with information on which to make a decision.
3. Do you tell the restaurant what you are doing?
No, never. All by reviews are done “blind” i.e. as a normal paying customer and yes, I do get strange looks sometimes when I take the pictures. Restaurant owners please note, I have never done the “do you know who I am?” routine! and anyone attempting to blag a free meal is not me.

4. How do you choose a restaurant?

Often it’s got some newsworthy angle to it but sometimes it really is just where I happen to want to go out. Owners often invite me to go along. I keep these invites to one side and weigh them up regularly but I don’t just dash down there on the strength of the request – it has to add up for other reasons.
5. Do you ever go back?
Yes, obviously good venues deserve repeat custom but it’s unlikely they will be featured again unless the place changes hands, has a new chef, complete re-furb or similar. If my original review was done a long time ago and is unlikely to reflect the current situation I would review if a second time in the interests of attempting to provide accurate information. I have also returned to places that I wasn’t impressed with just to double-check it wasn’t a freak incident but ask yourself – how often would you give a place another go? A meal out is as much a one-off performance as the theatre – poor opening night and the audience is unlikely to return.
I believe this is largely the same for all professional journalists but obviously anyone these days can publish a review online or submit it to an advertising platform. So, as in most areas of life, anyone doubting the validity of what they read should make further inquiries. Why not ask the author? I’d be fascintaed to see some of the replies.

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