The job of a food critic is to report as accurately as possible the taste, texture, aroma and presentation of the food in a restaurant. You comment not only on the food, but also on the atmosphere, the knowledge of the staff and the attention they give to the customer, the speed of service, and the general impression of the restaurant or cafe. A good review puts the reader at the table next to you, giving them the opportunity to decide whether or not to visit that restaurant after reading your review.
Method 1 of 3: Writing the review
Step 1. Do some background research
Once you've enjoyed the meal and took notes, take a moment to research the restaurant's history. These kinds of details are a great way to add some color to your review. For example, you may discover that the chef was trained in France or previously worked at another beloved restaurant in the area, and you can use these connections to pique the reader's interest in the dishes.
Start by reading the restaurant's website. Find out who the owner and chef are to get an idea of their education, style and past ventures
Step 2. Open your review with a catchy phrase
The first sentence of the review should make people want to read more. Remember, you're giving them a reason to either spend their money in this restaurant or choose another place, but you also want them to read what you have to write. Some tips for a catchy intro are:
- Promise a story or surprise, such as "It took a while to find its way into my mouth, but I've found the best paella on the planet." However, make sure you can keep the promise!
- Provide an interesting, tangible fact, such as "Chef Zurlo only started cooking 2 years ago, but has quickly risen through the ranks operating Utrecht's best new bagel shop."
- Give a particularly captivating description or captivating part of the ambiance, good or bad, such as a beautiful view or a weird smell from the kitchen.
Step 3. Describe 3-5 dishes you have tried, not all
No one wants to read a laundry list of dishes, so pick the dishes that made the biggest impression on you (good or bad) and focus on those dishes when writing. Don't just say whether they were good or bad. Provide details and reasons, and name each specific dish. A guideline is to talk about the following three things when discussing food:
What did the dish look like when served, and how did it make you feel? Enthusiastic? Hungry? Like a king? Like being back home in the kitchen?
Obviously, but only because it's so important. Use descriptive language, metaphors and similes to put the reader in your shoes, or let them taste what you taste. Name the spices or aromas if you can.
This is usually also about the cooking process. Did it melt in your mouth? Was it still warm when it was served? Was it juicy and tender or hard and brittle? Were there multiple textures (like something soft with a crunchy crust), and did they go well together?
Step 4. Use big, colorful adjectives when writing
Remember that you are selling the experience above all, not just the food. Feel free to get a little poetic at some points in the text, using 1-2 well-placed adjectives so that the reader knows exactly what to expect in the restaurant. You can think of this in some ways as the short story of your journey – give details and place colorful additions that make the restaurant stand out and feel unique.
This includes the atmosphere, the surface and the location. The more specific details, the better. Try to discuss an interesting detail about each interaction/section of the restaurant
Step 5. Think about the purpose of a restaurant, not just your personal preferences
A good review helps people find a suitable restaurant, and is not just a platform to tell everyone what you love and what you don't like. For example, if you go to a restaurant with retro art on the walls and roller skate dancers, it wouldn't be fair to judge the restaurant on its specialization in burgers and fries rather than oysters. A good food critic is as objective as possible and evaluates the restaurant as a whole.
- What kind of atmosphere are they aiming for? Did she succeed?
- How do your preferences match the restaurants? If you hate seafood, but that's the restaurant's specialty, you might want to tone down the negative reviews of the salmon or tell your readers that you're not a big fan of fish in general.
Step 6. Write a mix of pros and cons
Unless you're writing about the best restaurant you've ever eaten at or the worst, it's not fair to write a review that's completely positive or negative. Try to give your audience the complete picture. This ultimately allows the reader to make their own decision based on your advice, which comes across as much more thoughtful when both the pros and cons have been covered.
- "While the wait staff was incredibly friendly and cordial, this doesn't change the fact that the food was served lukewarm."
- "Chef Mathew Tucci has designed a great menu, but it's a shame he only has 10 tables to serve in his tiny diner."
Step 7. Make a recommendation
Ultimately, people want your advice about the food. What to order, what to skip and which restaurants to eat at, depending on their mood. Feel free to suggest certain dishes, recommend that someone skip a particular dessert, or mention when it seems like a great place for a date. This ensures that your reviews are persuasive and useful.
If there's little positive to say about the restaurant, and you're convinced it's better avoided, feel free to write a negative review. Usually, though, it's better to give a restaurant a second try to make sure you haven't tried a failed dish before attacking
Step 8. Fill in the essential details of the restaurant at the beginning or end of the review
This is where you put the average cost of a meal, the reservation time, and the address. You can also indicate a rating, such as 3 out of 4 stars, if you wish. Many food reviewers put this at the end of the article, in its own separate paragraph, but some also put it at the top, in a separate column on the side, or include it in one of the first paragraphs.
Method 2 of 3: Getting the right data
Step 1. Don't tell the employees you're a food critic
You want to get the same experience as any other customer, as many restaurants, if they know you're a critic, will give you special treatment to influence your rating. Instead of telling them you've come to review the food, just sit at a table and act like any other customer. In fact, the Association of Food Journalists recommends avoiding major culinary events (first opening, staff parties, etc.) so you don't risk being approached by chefs looking for a good review.
- If you're a well-known reviewer, book under a different name.
- Always take a notepad or small recorder with you to take notes, but you can also do this on your phone. If you want to write a great review, you need to take notes.
Step 2. Make some notes of the logistics of the restaurant
Do you need a reservation, and how far in advance is that arranged? Where is the restaurant, and what is the neighborhood like? How easy was it to find a parking space? These facts will be a very small part of your assessment, but this information is essential to help potential customers choose the perfect restaurant for their night out.
Step 3. Describe the atmosphere and ambiance upon entering
Give your reader a feel for your experience. Do the staff treat you like family or an old friend, or is the entourage elegant and classy? What is the dress code? What kind of atmosphere is there in the restaurant? Be creative in the description -- a good culinary review isn't just about the menu, it's about the whole experience.
- Do the decorations create an attractive atmosphere?
- Do people enjoy their meal? Are there long, crowded tables or many small, intimate tables?
Step 4. Make some comments about the service
Avoid things like 'the service was good/bad'. You'll have to be more specific. The best way to get more details is to ask questions. While you don't want to bother people, good staff will know what food goes together, if there are any allergens in the dish, and what the basic presentation of the dish is. Most importantly, great waitstaff is there when you need them -- when the water in your glass runs out, when a fork drops, and when you're ready for the next course.
Step 5. Order a wide selection from the menu
You will never be able to order everything on the menu. However, you will have to sample as many areas of it as you can. Be sure to have a drink, a starter, a main course and a dessert, to get a sense of the full possibilities of the kitchen. If you can, go out to dinner with a group of people and have everyone order something different (meat/fish, soup/salad, fried/stewed) to get a good idea of how the kitchen handles the entire restaurant.
- As a food critic you should try everything you can to get a good impression of the restaurant.
- What you order is of course a matter of personal preference. However, ask the wait staff for recommendations; that's a great way to find out what the kitchen and staff are most proud of. Most servers have tasted everything on the menu, under the guidance of the chef, so they should be able to help you order and choose what to eat.
Method 3 of 3: Eat like a food critic
Step 1. Pay attention to the presentation of the dish
Once the food has reached your table, make some notes about its appearance. Is it clean and nice or messy and flimsy? Remember that a culinary review is about the experience, not just about the taste, so you need to record all of this data.
If you are in a restaurant that allows such a thing, take a quick photo of the food with your phone. This will make it much easier to write about the look later on
Step 2. Take your first bite
Enjoy the first few bites, and taste everything on your plate before writing anything down. Eat slowly and enjoy the meal before you become overly critical.
Make sure you eat the dish as it is intended - don't search for ingredients or try individual things first
Step 3. Record your first impressions with specific details
Use adjectives and plain language when taking notes. "The rosemary was well used" is not as helpful as "The rosemary crust was light and spicy, complemented perfectly by the soft, fluffy potatoes." That said, now is the time to take notes, so don't worry about perfecting the text just yet.
Writing down specific details now about why you liked or didn't like a dish will make writing much easier later on
Step 4. Taste the individual parts of the meal
This is where you start with the specifics of a good culinary review. Check each part of the meal individually, against the following criteria:
How does the food feel in your mouth? Again, be specific as there are a variety of textures that can all be good or bad.
Are the spices carried through consistently throughout the meal? Can you tell what some of the herbs are?
A difficult to describe, complexity is a measure of the variety of flavors in a food. A good cook doesn't go for 'lemon flavor' or 'garlic & pepper,' they want to give their dishes a nuanced, unique taste. Do the individual parts of the dishes combine into something new or better than the sum of the parts?
Step 5. Taste everything on the table
If you're with other people, make sure to sample their dishes as well and take some quick notes. This is the best way to get a complete picture of the menu and the restaurant's strengths and weaknesses.
Record the exact name of each dish for later reference. Your readers will want to know what to order or what to avoid
Step 6. Make specific notes while eating
A good review is rooted in facts, so make sure you're armed with facts. Of course, any food review is inherently subjective, but that doesn't mean you can only comment on what you liked and didn't like. It may be easiest to take your notes after you've finished the dish, depending on your party. Anyway, don't rely on your memory - real reviewers take notes.
Step 7. Ask questions when they arise
If you're curious about what's in a sauce, how it's prepared, or where certain luxury foods (meats, expensive cheeses, etc.) are sourced, feel free to ask. At high-end restaurants, the waitstaff is trained to know everything about the food they serve, so they'll be happy to answer you.
- Be open minded with every dish you try.
- Avoid superlatives like "the very best" or "the very worst" because they diminish your credibility and give the reader little real information. Best and worst are subjective, and you want to provide your reader with facts.