Everybody’s a Critic

The San Francisco Chronicle ran a “slow news day, huh?” story on its front page Sunday marveling over the fact that amateurs posting online restaurant reviews and gossip are stealing thunder from official food critics. According to the article “Food bloggers dish up plates of spicy criticism,” the criticism meted out by newpapers, TV, and magazines is nothing compared to online drubbings:

Online message boards, gossip columns, city restaurant guides and food blogs are proliferating and having a profound influence on where consumers spend their eating dollars. The once-genteel discipline of restaurant reviewing has turned into a free-for-all, celebrated by some as a new-world democracy but seen by others as populist tyranny.

OK, though the tone is a little gee-whiz for 2007 (whoa! you mean they have the Interwebs on computers now??), the Chron, a beneficiary of the old we-write-the-copy-you-buy-the-newspaper system, is understandably a little alarmed by the fact that readers are streaming away by the thousands to get their restaurant debriefings from guys named BvrHunt2312 on Yelp.com. Still, the piece is pretty fair, quoting bloggers who reasonably question the notion that food reportage requires anything beyond a sensitive palate, as well as relating the angst of a restaurateur deeply wounded by the criticism his restaurant received:

Just days after opening Senses, his San Francisco bistro, Teo Kridech clicked onto the World Wide Web only to find that his dream business was considered an overnight flop.

‘Senses is like a botched face lift covered with layers of poorly applied cheap make-up on a hot humid day in Biloxi, Miss.,’ one poster wrote on the Web site Yelp.

‘The food is crap,’ yelped another.

They mocked the ‘cheap porcelain plates,’ they ripped the ‘little butter dish from Ikea,’ and they derided the decor and staff.

The posts ‘nearly killed my business,’ said Kridech, a native of France who has worked in the food industry for 25 years and spent $150,000 revamping the Senses space. ‘Everyone has become a food critic. They think they’re real big shots. They probably can’t even make scrambled eggs.’

I think we can all agree on one thing: Scrambled eggs are darned hard to make properly.