One of the great things about writing is how many different ways there are to write. One of them is reviewing - and there are different branches again of reviewing: food, wine, movies, plays, TV as well as books.
We invited a TV reviewer and a food reviewer to speak at our NZSA meeting this month. Linda Burgess, the TV reviewer, was funny and engaging to listen to, especially in light of a controversy over a recent "offhand comment" she made which was taken in a different way from how she intended it and led to a flood of letters and emails, many of them personal and unpleasant. But, she said, the point of being a reviewer is to hold contentious views.
David Burton’s food reviews can be contentious at times. He's had five threats of defamation (two from the same article), although he has only once had to adopt a disguise to get into a restaurant. He described for us some of his rules for reviewing:
- stay away from a newly opened restaurant for the first 2 or 3 weeks
- if you book under your own name, only do that on the day
- try and arrive punctually, and hungry
- order off the menu, not the specials board (so they can't make anything special just for you)
- look around to make sure that others are getting the same level of service as you are
- be polite to waiting staff and treat them as professionals.
David said that a review gives a snapshot of that particular night, and only has an impact for a few weeks. It only remains valid for about six months, or until the chef leaves (so you shouldn't rely on the ones which have been in the restaurant windows for years.)
Reviewers put themselves in the spotlight and people will often ask, what credentials do they have? what gives them the right to hold forth like that? It must be an uncomfortable place to be at times, when you want to write an honest review. Much easier to criticise the reviewer sometimes than to take on board what they have to say.