A dining experience includes not only the tasty morsels that decorate your plate but also the ambiance of the restaurant and the dedication of the wait staff. With this in mind, the general public often relies on the reviews of a food critic to decide whether an establishment is worth their time and money. Food critics must be able to convey through their words what they taste, see and feel, and they must realize the power their reviews have on the restaurant they applaud or criticize. If you want to be paid for your critiques, working for a newspaper is your best bet. Although there are other online outlets like blogs and social networks, newspapers still reign supreme when it comes to restaurant opinions. Listed below are twelve actionable steps that’ll help you on your way to becoming a published, well-respected restaurant critic.
Apply to be a reporter at your local newspaper, if you have the appropriate background and skill set. Email your resume and attach three writing samples or links to your work online to the newspaper’s Human Resources department, as well as the Managing Editor of the Features Department, which typically handles the restaurant reviews. Locate contact names and/or emails on the second page of the local newspaper or through the “Contact Us” tab on the newspaper’s official website.
Explain during your interview your writing experience, whether it be as a hobby or in print journalism. Describe your talent for not only meeting deadlines but delivering superior articles that help readers make informed decisions. Request to work in any capacity with the newspaper’s Features Department, even as a freelancer if no open positions are available.
Tell your managing editor about your desire to be a restaurant critic. Wait for that writing position to open up and apply for it. Alternatively, ask your editor if you can review restaurants not typically featured in the newspaper, such as establishments that are considered “dives” or serve budget-friendly meals.
Join a professional writing group to improve your writing. Learn from your co-members how to write succinctly, informatively, and in an interesting manner. Pay attention to the constructive criticism provided by your peers. Take part in as many assignments and group-sharing workshops as possible. Locate a nearby writing group by entering “professional writing group” and the name of your town in a search engine; otherwise, inquire about any writing groups at your local library.
Write free restaurant reviews for local blogging sites to get practice in the trade. Take note how your fellow bloggers with a large fan base appeal to the public through their reviews. Observe their humor, professionalism, and what they focus on in their review. Inquire from friends and family what they want to know about when visiting a restaurant for the first time.
Writing Your Reviews
Identify restaurants in the area you’ve been assigned to cover, and keep a detailed directory of each place in a journal or on your computer. Update the list periodically to account for new restaurants and to cross out places that have closed. Research the background and menu of the restaurant you plan to review by visiting the restaurant’s website or social media page, if applicable.
Order multiple appetizers, main courses and desserts when you visit the restaurant. Bring friends along so it doesn’t look odd that you ordered nine plates of food. Sample your friends’ dishes so you can taste as much of the menu as possible. Visit the restaurant on two separate occasions to confirm your initial impression. Note any inconsistencies in the meal and service in your review.
Take note of the restaurant’s decor and cleanliness. Ask yourself questions that a diner might like to know: How bright or dim is the lighting, how are diners dressed, is the seating spacious or confined, are the glasses and silverware clean, how is the parking situation, do they accept credit cards?
Test the service of the wait staff. Don’t order your food and sit quietly until the check arrives. Ask for your meal to be prepared or served in a certain way. Observe how long it takes for the wait staff to take your order, refill your water, fulfill your requests, and bring you your check.
Write your review to the specifications outlined by your editor or the publication for which you write. Keep your review in the required word count. Include all the contact information for the restaurant, so readers know the address, phone number and website of the establishment. List a price range for a typical meal that includes an appetizer, main course, drink and dessert, and include the prices of your menu items in your review.
Be objective with your critiques and compliments. Leave out phrases and wording that point out your own food preferences or favorite cuisines. Review the dishes on their presentation and taste. Use descriptive and specific language that paints a picture of how the meal was prepared, such as its coloring, level of spice and texture.
Keep track of your receipts, and submit your detailed expense reports to your editor. Discuss your budget with your editor occasionally to make sure you have enough funds to cover the restaurants you want to review.
Attend food and wine festivals to expand your culinary vocabulary and to learn about new food-preparation techniques. Attend culinary classes to become more familiar with what goes on in a restaurant’s kitchen, or take courses at a local community college to improve your writing. Inquire with your employer if such classes can be paid for by the company.
Maintain your anonymity so you can review restaurants like a regular customer. If you need to speak with the restaurant manager or chef for the article, conduct a phone interview so restaurant staffers only know your name and not your face.
Eating out on a regular basis can destroy any diet, so stay on top of your health. Maintain an exercise regime so you remain healthy and can do this job for as long as you’re able.
If you are new to writing or reviewing restaurants, get practice by reviewing restaurants (for free) through social media sites like Yelp or creating a free blog that features your articles, such as through Blogger.com. You can direct friends and families to your site and try to build a fan base through word of mouth.
If you get a paid job at local newspaper, magazine, or online publication, accept smaller writing assignments at first because your managing editor may want to see what you’re capable of doing. Listen to the constructive criticism of your editors and co-workers as you learn the writing style for the newspaper and what they expect from you.
Never accept free drinks or food or any type of special treatment that could question your impartiality and the integrity of your review.
Don’t be overly kind to protect a chef’s feelings or overly critical in order to attract readers. Your job is to help diners get an idea for a place they’re thinking about patronizing. If you remain objective and truthful, you’ll be able to stand behind your review under any sort of criticism by a disgruntled chef or skeptical reader.