Slate's L.V. Anderson writes a rebuttal to critic Robert Sietsema's recent essay on Eater NY that suggests dwindling review budgets have had a more profound impact on the state of restaurant criticism than the advent of Yelp and social media.
Where Sietsema writes that smaller expense accounts result in less reliable reviews, Anderson argues that all reviews should be paid out of the critic's pocket. Why? Having someone else pick up the tab affects the reviewer's impressions of the experience: "People are more careless and less emotionally invested when they're spending someone else's money than when they're spending their own."
In his piece, Sietsema explains that when critics are forced to dip into their own funds, they visit the restaurant fewer times and order fewer dishes. Anderson writes that "Sietsema's argument makes perfect sense — if you accept his terms," taking issue with the whole idea that restaurant critics should have expense accounts to begin with. Because critics do not have to spend their own money on a meal, Anderson argues, they are not fulfilling their duty to experience the meal as their reader would. She writes:
The fact that restaurant critics have expense accounts undoubtedly affects their experience at restaurants. That's because buying something on your boss's dime is a very different psychological experience from paying for something out of your own pocket, whether you're using a company credit card or filing an expense report later. If it's a restaurant critic's duty to convey what it's like for a normal schmo to dine at a restaurant, then the existence of a reviewing budget contradicts that duty.
The issue of critics sharing the experiences of "ordinary" customers has been a hot topic following New York Times critic Pete Wells's decision to take a star away from Daniel for not giving the same treatment to all guests. Anderson's response to Wells's review was to suggest critics "do away with the whole pretense of being an everyman." Is her critique of anonymity at odds with suggesting critics get rid of expense accounts? Either way, it seems that the difference between critics and readers will continue to shape the conversation around the state of restaurant criticism.