The Year in Food 2008

The Year in Food 2008

Bits and Bites

The Dark Side of Yelp

Yelp gained fame as the site where ordinary people with varying degrees of qualification and intelligence could sound off about dining, among other things—meaning that with the help of the Internet, everyone finally is, in fact, a critic. This year, the site garnered controversy when San Francisco Chronicle restaurant critic Michael Bauer reported on the phenomenon of Yelpers using the site as a bludgeon to intimidate restaurant owners into coughing up free food. Bauer’s description of the tactic? Extortion. More positive assessments of the site (including a mammoth piece in the New York Times) make the perfectly reasonable rebuttal that Yelp is just another form of virtual community … and that every community has a few switchblade-toting thugs. —James Norton

BK Becomes the King of Cool

Quick—name the least hip fast-food chain in existence. Correct: It’s Burger King, the perennial downmarket also-ran behind McDonald’s, never as quick to spot a trend, never as hard-core about its branding, never as willing to market its food with a creepy clown. That is, until a few years ago, when BK introduced its creepy king-mask-guy commercials. This year, Burger King built on those ads’ success with a much-buzzed-about series of Internet shorts by Family Guy auteur Seth MacFarlane. Dark, edgy, usually tangentially related to food—Burger King may not overtake McDonald’s on the sales front, but it’s making a serious bid for the cool front. Or at least the funny front. —James Norton

A Starvation Diet for Food Sections

The Dow Jones buckled, and newspapers decided to cook their food and restaurant sections. As part of larger staff layoffs this year, some notable food writers were let go or offered buyouts, including New York magazine’s Insatiable Critic, Gael Greene; New York Times columnist Marian Burros; and Susan LaTempa, acting editor of the LA Times food section. What’s to become of food and restaurant coverage? Surprise: It’s being replated to the Web. Blogging gained more and more weight, whether by newspaper employees, ex-employees, or neurobiologists who moonlight as cocktail lounge babes. Of course nobody knows how to turn blogging into big money, and since enthusiastic amateurs are willing to do it for free, it’s hard for media outlets to justify paying the pros to blog. As Gourmet’s Ruth Reichl once told Serious Eats’ Ed Levine, we’re in the middle of an industrial revolution. —Traci Vogel

Dial “C” for Clueless

Urbanspoon, the iPhone app that tells users about nearby restaurants when they shake their phones, was a clever way to take advantage of iPhone madness and GPS technology. But it disappointed New York Times restaurant critic Frank Bruni when it failed to find the restaurant he was standing in front of. On a similar high-tech, low-payoff note: A Citysearch/Scanbuy bar code system that’s big in Japan got lost in translation on its way to the United States. More than 500 restaurants in San Francisco put the bar codes on their windows, which when photographed with a camera phone delivered the places’ Citysearch info on the phone’s Web browser. Since then we haven’t heard much about the system. Probably because it’s not that hard to just go to Google and type in “citysearch.” —Roxanne Webber