You might imagine that after writing almost 500 restaurant reviews over two decades that a reviewer would get asked many questions. That’s the case with me and I thought it would be helpful if I actually wrote them down with answers as I know lots of readers will be interested.
Q: How do you choose the restaurants you review?
A: Actually it’s a team effort. I choose some from my knowledge of the area and paying attention to the restaurant scene, my editors assign me some, and occasionally a reader will ask to have one reviewed.
Q: How far will you travel to review a restaurant?
A: I’ve reviewed restaurants in Trumansburg, Skaneateles, Cortland, Homer, and Watkins Glen, in addition to Ithaca and Lansing. I’ll go anywhere the Ithaca Times is delivered and I have in mind that most readers probably won’t want to travel more than 50 miles round trip to eat.
Q: Do you review chain restaurants?
A: Normally, no. However, I reviewed Texas Roadhouse when it first came to Ithaca and also Five Guys Burgers and Fries.
Q: How often do you review the same restaurant?
A: I usually wait at least two years. It will be more frequent if the restaurant management changes or there are major alterations in the restaurant.
Q: How many times do you visit an establishment you’re reviewing?
A: That depends. If a restaurant serves lunch and dinner, I go at least twice for lunch and twice for dinner. If I’m disappointed, I go back more than I had anticipated because anyone can have an off day. Sometimes the key chef is ill and not there, some staff is absent, food delivery is delayed, etc. I want to be fair. Frankly, I hope not to write negative reviews, however, sometimes it’s necessary.
Q: Is your primary loyalty to the restaurants?
A: No, as much as I respect restaurateurs risking their own money, dealing with personnel problems, and government issues, my primary loyalty is to the readers of the Ithaca Times. They want to know how and where they should spend their hard-earned money and their limited time.
Q: Do you review a new restaurant as soon as it opens?
A: No. I don’t think that would be fair. I usually wait 30-45 days before I even go to a new establishment so they have time to work out the kinks.
Q: Does the restaurant management know you’re reviewing?
A: No. Twenty years ago we used to tell the restaurant who the reviewers were and ask them to offer a free meal. I thought that wasn’t fair. I wanted to be treated like everyone else — no larger portions, more professional service, better cuts of meat, etc. I once learned that a manager reserved their most efficient server for me when I came. That’s when I ended the practice. I may identify myself after I finish the dining visits if I want to check some details or get some “inside” information. Speaking of anonymity, when I reviewed for the Ithaca Journal they wanted to put my photo on the website and I wouldn’t let them. Then they wanted to have a caricature of my face — I declined that too.
Q: Does the Ithaca Times management tell you to be positive?
A: Definitely not — never. If they did, I wouldn’t be here. They leave me completely alone and print exactly what I write unless they need to delete words for space reasons.
Q: Do you ever get free meals?
A: No. I believe that would compromise my objectivity.
Q: What’s your favorite restaurant?
A: I never answer this question. It would be the fastest way to make one friend and lose a hundred. I also think it’s unprofessional for a restaurant reviewer to answer that. Besides, I don’t have one. The Ithaca area is blessed with a wide variety of different restaurants with different ethnicities and price ranges. It would be like comparing apples and oranges (pardon the food metaphor).
Q: Have you ever refused to review a restaurant?
A: Yes. If I know that I could only fairly give it a terrible review, I tell my editor. I’ve never been challenged on this. I think all the management of the paper agrees. I understand that all readers may not agree with every review I write and I think that’s a wonderful testimonial to the diversity of our area. I only hope that my reviews serve as a starting point for you to enjoy your varied dining out experiences and that you find them helpful and fun reading.