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Debates: Should Critics Wait to Review New Restaurants?

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Photo: Flickr / loop_oh
Hillary Dixler Canavan is Eater's restaurant editor and the author of the publication's debut book, Eater: 100 Essential Restaurant Recipes From the Authority on Where to Eat and Why It Matters (Abrams, September 2023). Her work focuses on dining trends and the people changing the industry — and scouting the next hot restaurant you need to try on Eater's annual Best New Restaurant list.

In what is probably just straight trolling, Slate has published yet another rebuttal to Robert Sietsema's recent essay on Eater NY which discusses the impact of social media and dwindling review budgets on restaurant criticism. This time, Slate argues that critics shouldn't wait to review new restaurants with the sensational headlline: "Critics Need to Stop Coddling Restaurants."

In his essay, Sietsema writes that one impact of Yelp and social media is that in order to compete, "critics shortened the lag time between when a restaurant appears and when they write about it." These days restaurants get reviewed one to two months after opening instead of the former standard of three to six months. Slate's Luke O'Neil says that when critics wait to review restaurants, they are not putting the reader first.

While O'Neil makes some interesting analogies between theater previews and the first months of service, he spends more time writing what seems to be deliberately aggressive critiques of the restaurant industry. Of the first months of a new restaurant, he writes: "A restaurant supposedly takes time to find itself, and its opening weeks can be a time of trial and error during which the intricate craftsmanship of applying heat to food syncs with the delicate artistry of placing it on a plate and bringing it to a table." Getting a restaurant open just shouldn't be that hard, O'Neil speculates: "Granted, the choreography of running a restaurant may present some unforeseen challenges, but not that many." Waiting to a review a restaurant, in O'Neil's point of view, is a form of "noblesse oblige" that plays into restaurant's "optimized marketing scheme[s]."

O'Neil asserts that because customers have to pay to eat at restaurants as soon as a restaurant opens, critics should review as soon as possible. It's an uncommon point of view, but Slate's recent agenda in restaurant writing has been to publish unexpected pieces of advice for critics following big stories within the world of restaurant criticism. After New York Times dining critic Pete Wells takes a star away from Daniel for not treating guests equally, Slate's L.V. Anderson suggests critics shouldn't be anonymous. After Robert Sietsema writes that shrinking review budgets are producing less reliable reviews, Anderson writes critics shouldn't have budgets. It just seems like these unexpected Slate mandates are becoming totally expected.

· Critics Need to Stop Coddling Restaurants [Slate]
· Sietsema on the Current State of Restaurant Criticism [Eater NY]
· All Critics Coverage on Eater [-E-]