Is the restaurant reviewer the last all-powerful ‘old media’ critic?

By Andy Spinoza, MD

A stream of excellent write-ups for our restaurant client Erst in Ancoats has got me thinking: is the restaurant review the last bastion of the critic-as-tastemaker?

There was a time not too long ago when a stinking review of a new restaurant, film, a play or a novel would torpedo a project.

When I was at the Manchester Evening News, we nicknamed the theatre critic the ‘Butcher of Deansgate’ – one bad review of a first night and the producers could kiss their investment goodbye.

Alan Hulme was always fair. After all, as a local journalist, he had to walk the same streets as the people behind the play.

National critics were not so considerate, especially as readers enjoyed their acid-tipped reviews.

And so it was with ‘old media’. Journalists had the power.

What was, after all, just one person’s opinion in just one major newspaper, could see the show closed, the movie pulled, the books in the remainder bin.

These days, it is all so very different.

One of the worst-reviewed movies of the last few years, The Greatest Showman, was panned – but audiences loved it and it became a cult hit.

Online, there are so many sources of info about leisure and entertainment content, that the high-and-mighty critic-as-executioner has all but died out.

The aggregation of reviews into ratings and star systems means we are presented with data-based averages, rather than the expert judgment of a specialist commentator.

Except, maybe, for the restaurant trade.

Yes, there are the online review sites with their oceans of dull drivel about whether the food was over-seasoned – any sane person takes all that with a lorry-load of salt.

But in the national press, restaurant reviewers wield their knowledge and their subjective personal taste with real power.

You read critics like Giles Coren and Marina O’Loughlin of the Times newspapers and Grace Dent of the Guardian because of damn fine writing combined with expert knowledge.

They become trusted guides and entertaining reporters about their experience.

They can really cut like a knife, blowing a hole in egos and business plans. Equally, they wax lyrical if they rate the food, service and ambience.

At SKV, one thing we know, is that you don’t invite these national critics to your client’s restaurant.

They are driven, we believe, by personal recommendations and reviews by the local reviewers and influencers we work with.

If the place is good, the kings and queens of the restaurant scene turn up – incognito, of course, the staff will often have no clue who they are.

At the end of this process, all the PRs and influencers in the world don’t count – it’s the reviewer’s experience on the night which can make or break a restaurant.