There is an article by John Kessler in the January 22, 2012 AJC that’s making the rounds. His comments concern drawing premature conclusions about food, one that segues into a critical commentary about the one meal review, and one, that from my reading of the elements and circumstances, appears to be a critique of the one meal review in general. In it he complains about Foodie Buddha, something that has become a rite of passage for professionals in the Atlanta area. Foodie is a contrary reviewer, fond of locating new restaurants and reviewing quickly. Foodie’s unfamiliarity with journalistic tropes, awkwardness with words and unconventional points of view make him an easy target. And because FB doesn’t write for a living, any verbal contest between Kessler and FB is combat between a soldier and an unarmed man.

I want to get back to the one notion in the article that disturbs me. It’s the idea that the professional, multi-visit review is the norm, and the one meal review something peculiar and disturbing. I’m not sure how that evolved. The “Average Joe” isn’t rich. He may just have a few dollars in his pocket. He’s hardly about to spend hundreds or thousands of dollars exploring the whole of a menu of a restaurant, particularly one he doesn’t like very much. His judgments are made on the spot, on the basis of the information in front of him.

It’s only in the world of the paid reviewer that people go back to bad restaurants. Everyone else avoids them after the first bad experience, and in a wired world, people now talk about those experiences, often in full caps, often with photographs of the offending meal. It’s a change from the era when print newspapers alone were how people obtained in-depth information, and it’s not one that certain components of the restaurant industry are comfortable with.

Nevertheless, the expansion of information resources is going to accelerate. How many different ways can people find out about a restaurant in this city now? Newspapers, radio, television, food sites, one of the 150 Atlanta food bloggers, and forums all serve an eating public. The modern era, dominated by people talking about their meals, their experiences, substitutes great breadth for depth. There is nothing wrong with that.

What has to change is how people read articles. A blogger’s article, based on a single meal, is just a single point of view. So is a user experience posted to Yelp or Urbanspoon. A newspaper’s professional review is considerably more in depth. And all of these need to be taken collectively as a whole, not read separately and used without context.

It is important, I believe, to calibrate the bloggers you might read. You need to read enough of their work to see how their tastes match with yours, how their experience rings true to your own, how well they describe a world you understand. If a blogger isn’t talking to you, find another blogger. If a blogger isn’t reliable, cut the value of his review down a notch or two. If a few bloggers think in ways you understand, and then show you a few things you may not have experienced, then perhaps you’ve found a fit, and someone worth following.

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