Why We Don't Feature Restaurant Reviews On Tucson Foodie

By Adam Lehrman
November 20, 2015

I'll admit, I used to write reviews. My first stabs at "reviewing" restaurants happened on Yelp in 2007 and 2008. I enjoyed the process and I was good at it. At least two of my reviews were featured as Yelp's ROTD, or "Review Of The Day" and some I proudly posted on Tucson Foodie, as well. But, something happened that I can't quite a put a finger on - I began to hate the restaurant review as a form.

Yelp was less hated in 2007 through 2009 and it's no secret that today the publicly traded company has legions of haters. Although a number of popular places exist for reviews to be written, such as reservations site OpenTable, search giant Google, and travel review site TripAdvisor, Yelp remains the poster child of online reviews. It's a phenomenon, really. For all the flack Yelp gets, for the most part, the accuracy is there. Yes, there are poorly written reviews. Yes, many people have no clue what they're talking about. Yes, some legit reviews are filtered. Yes, there may be some questionable tactics. But, with Yelp's volume of reviews for any given establishment, things tend to balance out. After all, if enough of the general public chimes in with their opinion, you'll get an accurate assessment.

But Yelp is not what killed it for me. If Yelp is the ground floor for would-be reviewers and the New York Times is the pinnacle, it's the endless sea in the middle that's left me disillusioned. At some point, I realized, it's too easy to be a critic. It's ridiculously difficult to actually do something, like dream up a restaurant concept, procure a lease, spend hundred of thousands, if not millions on a buildout, hire and train an enormous staff, and work 80 to 100 hour weeks to make it all function. Yeah, being a critic is easy. (For what it's worth, I don't consider myself a critic in the least.)

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At the same time, a need exists for information.

Craig Claiborne, who became the food editor at the Times in 1957 established an "ethical and procedural framework for restaurant reviewing" which mostly remains intact. The Association of Food Journalists, who preface their Food Critics' Guidelines with "restaurant criticism is not an objective pursuit, yet readers expect a measure of objectivity from critics," elaborate on this framework, but the basics are as follows: critics shouldn't handle general restaurant reporting, they should remain anonymous, visit multiple times (two or more), sample a full-range of the menu, pay in full, cover a variety of a given region's restaurant, and wait at least a month to review a new restaurant (I say three months).

I don't want to sound like I'm singing my own praises here, but neither do I wish to sell myself short - I cannot ethically be a food critic. For one, I don't want to be, and two, it's just not right. I know many restaurant owners personally. I attend many pre-opening previews, I accept free meals... I'm a rule-breaker (and I'm cheap). But, still, couldn't I employ a food critic that would adhere to these standards? Short answer, yes. But, that's not what we do at Tucson Foodie. It's never been in my interest to tear something down. Tucson Foodie began with my sheer interest in finding the best food Tucson has to offer. If we're featuring it, we think it's good. Or, at the very least, worth checking out.

Don't get me wrong. I have bad experiences all the time. I bitch about them, too. I have bad experiences at restaurants I like, at ones I love, and I have great experiences, too. If you think any restaurant is going to be firing at 100% on all cylinders all day, every day, well, I'm here to tell you that they don't. They sure try, though.

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Another reason the restaurant review leaves a bad taste in my mouth is the wide range of individual tastes people have. I never cease to be amazed at how different each of us perceive flavor. I have friends and family who are much more sensitive to sweet and salt than me. I like things salty, big, and hearty. At the same time, I love delicately prepared items with tweezers, too, but if French fries and pork belly are on the menu, it's hard for me to order a salad.

Personally, I think the review is dead. I enjoy exceptionally well-written, prose-like reviews, such as LA Times' Jonathan Gold's, but really, that's because it's entertainment. If you want a decent summary, check Yelp and Google Reviews, and you'll have enough to go on. Or, god-forbid, just go and find out for yourself. I can't tell you how many times I've avoided a place due to negative reviews, only to find that when I finally mustered up the courage to check it out, it was great.

So, if you've been hoping for Tucson Foodie to publish restaurant reviews at some point, it's not going to happen any time soon. You might find some old ones, if you search, however. What I do intend to continue to deliver to you lovely readers of ours are stories, places, dishes, and experiences we find fun, tasty, unique, and interesting. I intend to do this in the most journalistically appropriate way possible. I hope you enjoy it.

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