The internet has unleashed a level of critiquing from the general public that has never been seen before in the history of mankind. The pandemic really demonstrated this but even before covid the keyboard warriors were hard at it. With food being so opinionated the digital bashing has been particularly tough with some places and operators being seriously affected by the smallest of issues that were blown right out of proportion and sometimes it has even put operators out of business or damaged their mental health. Some have rightly hit back with clever retorts and taken on the actual abuse in some instances.
The issues or complaints of customers in previous times would have been addressed on the spot or on departure from a hospitality venue with an apology and a discount perhaps. That would have been the end of it. The venue would hopefully learn from the mistake whether it was by accident or otherwise and everyone would move on.
Now it’s a case of make the caterer or provider hurt, go for their juggler and let everybody know about the discomfort suffered because that noise in the next room kept someone awake, the eggs were overcooked at breakfast or the car park was too far away to lug suitcases in from. Sometimes the gripes are genuine and need an airing but tell the business not the whole world. Others are just so trivial or suspect that it now makes online reviews almost impossible to fully believe. We now know you can pay companies to have dozens of glowing comments about your place and for them to write negative posts about your competitors who you can have portrayed in a poor light.
My first restaurant critic columns in 2001.
For food reviews specifically it is even worse. Just who do you trust now? Okay everyone has a view, they are entitled to it and criticism is cheap but how it is handled now on a free for all, Wild West, shoot first, ask questions later internet is a real problem. I am always reminded of American president Roosevelt’s great quote that goes along the lines of its only the man in the arena who matters, the one who knows victory or defeat and there is no credit for the cold and timid souls of critics.
I am however all for the informed experienced observer or reporter who has run the race, kicked the ball, danced the dance. I would not dare give public utterances on a craft I was not schooled in. How can I possibly know the ins and outs of an art form I never bothered to learn or a sport I never played? That is not doing the reader or viewer any justice who is counting on the said opinion for guidance or advice.
I do have a wry smile when film critics for instance slam a movie upon release and it’s then a box office hit. It really proves a point that the public make up their own minds anyway. I have been critiquing food professionally and writing about it for the public for over twenty years. My one rule is never to slate a meal or a place. There are ways of saying that things were not right, a bit of nuance, subtlety and discretion and above all else offering the right remedies to fix whatever the fault was. To critique one must also know how to write or speak in a certain way of which both skills are also deteriorating now at an alarming rate. There are still some reliable sources out there like the Michelin Guidebook.
The problem with food is that we all eat and it being so subjective the public are then in a unique place in the opinions game. The web has given a permit to all and sundry then to react about what happened which before the web arrived was just an afterthought or gripe but is now a missile or brickbat ready to be aimed and fired without conscience or culpability.