Who's the latest critic to employ subterfuge and disguises to gauge the service at a highly rated restaurant? Why, it's Washington Post critic Tom Sietsema with a re-review of Bryan Voltaggio's 10-month-old restaurant Range. Sietsema recently released his annual Fall Dining Guide, which consists of 40 of his favorite DC area restaurants. But, of course, Sietsema still has some criticism for his favorite restaurants, and Eater DC points out that "Perhaps the worst criticism is reserved for Range."
Sietsema explains that a flood of reader feedback came in after his initial three-star review of Range, complaining that the stellar service he described must have been because he was recognized. Challenge accepted. Sietsema returned to the restaurant two more times afterward, using two good old food critic tricks: sending in a proxy and donning a disguise.
Similar to New York Times critic Pete Wells' use of a decoy in his controversial re-review of Daniel, for his first return visit Sietsema sent his dining companion in ahead of time to gauge the service received. That guest waited eight minutes at the table before a server approached, Sietsema writes, adding later that "Voltaggio explained that the waiter observed my guest, whose back was to the server, texting and hesitated to interrupt him."
Naturally, the second method Sietsema employs is the disguise, a classic trick that critics have been using for quite some time to particularly great effect if you're Ruth Reichl dressed up as a bag lady. And Sietsema's disguise, it seems, worked. Dressed as a friend's "worst blind-date nightmare," he describes being seated in Siberia, napkins that went unfolded, wine that went unpoured, cocktail glasses that went uncleared, and more. "[L]ots of things went undone," wrote Sietsema. The inattentiveness was in contrast to his initial review in which he describes the service as well thanks to servers who "read their customers like books, magically appearing just as you need them and fully versed in Range's scores of dishes." Oops.
Much like with Wells' review of Daniel, Sietsema still raves about the food at Range — in the one paragraph in which it comes up — but still dings the restaurant down to 2.5 stars this time around. He concludes, "The kitchen is the restaurant's best asset. The service? It's better if they know you at Range."