Had actually planned something else for today; I'll wrap it in plastic and hope keeps. Just learned (via Facebook, and no, I didn't score any stock) that today is the 50th anniversary of the first restaurant review to be published in the NYTimes. Not that the news is in the Times itself but in a blog offshoot of CNN called Eatocracy. As in, Eat + (you pick) democracy or aristocracy or meritocracy or bureaucracy. Whatever, they take themselves verrrry seriously at CNN, and their review of critic Jay Rayner's new oeuvre, My Dining Hell, subtitled "Twenty Ways to Have a Lousy Night Out," reviewed in reverential tones.
I assume that's because Rayner is British, and the Brits, as we know, are masters of the literary dagger, the journalistic poignard, the online skewer, the Twittered shiv. And the practitioners of the art, like the best actors, are fully aware of their dyspeptic appeal. "If there is one thing I have learnt it is that people like reviews of bad restaurants. No, scratch that. They adore them, feast upon them like starving vultures who have spotted fly-blown carrion out in the bush."
So writes Rayner himself; the Eatocracy review then casts a wider net and interviews none other than Seattle Weekly's own resto writer Hannah Raskin, introduced to readers of these very columns last summer. "Not only is the writing not fun, but the research isn't fun either." says Raskin. "We're the ones that have to eat that bad food again and again and again." Yet Raskin acknowledges that she gets more positive feedback from negative reviews, typically along the lines of "I'm glad someone is telling it like it is."
Having once held her position, I agree. I've been reviewing restaurants for publication (and getting paid for my labors, albeit modestly) for more decades than I have typing fingers. I owe at least half my body weight to meals ingested for the purpose of describing them to others, many of them falling into the category of "taking one for the team." Yelpers? Ignorant amateurs.
Last word to Rayner: "The ability of people in the restaurant business to screw things up and find unique ways to screw things up never ceases to amaze me." But then, his job is selling newspapers, not restaurants.