Becoming an Amateur Food Critic

Critiquing a restaurant gives you a feeling of power. Do you give the restaurant a glistening review and let them stay open to serve another meal? Or do you pan them, point out their flaws, and watch them struggle? Of course, unless your reviews are published, you would never truly have that power over a restaurant, but there is some satisfaction sharing your entry with fellow travelers to put a few bucks into or take a few bucks out of the owner's pocket.
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Writing your own formal restaurant reviews can give you a standardized comparison of places you've eaten. You might try to shoot for a common word length for each of your reviews. You can pack a lot of thoughts, feelings and information into 200 words.

Come up with your own rating system as a yardstick to measure all restaurants by. Try ranking elements like:

Class
Is the restaurant a classy place or not? At one end of the scale try "quaint" with the other end being "posh." Ambiance
Whether quaint or posh, does the place have character? One of the best restaurants in Athens, Greece, has a tree growing through the center of it and three dignified cats that pay a visit to the spare chairs at customers' tables. They give you two minutes to give them something before snubbing you and moving on to the next table. That's entertainment. I gave the place high markings, even before I tried the great food. Cleanliness
An issue the world over. How does it rate? How does it rate with the rest of the country?

Service
You might just list the percentage you tipped as an indicator. Food Quality
Was it lousy? Was it culture shock? Or did your mouth go limp from the delightful flavor? Value
Some prefer a "cost" category, but value asks "was the meal worth what I paid for it?" Or "what made it worth going back for?" In Nepal, I ate at some supposedly classy restaurants, but the only meals worth repeating were the ones that our guide Mr. Chetri prepared impromptu in other people's kitchens while hiking the Himalayas.

There are many other things you can rate: safety, finding the place, personality of the chef, whether the owner was on site, etc. Or you might just keep it simple and keep your rating system to a few symbols; $ to $$$$ for price, P,F,G,E (Poor, Fair, Good, Excellent) for quality, the number of bites out of a round cookie for flavor, or even just stars for your over—all experience. Four or five options for each ranking is common. If you try one to 10, you'll probably find yourself coming up with discrepancies from restaurant to restaurant because you're thinking about it too hard. The more options of ranking you have, the less fair you are likely to be.

This article appeared in the October 2000 issue of Personal Journaling.

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