An in depth look at a restaurant critic

 star ratings

A world class fine dining restaurant can live or die based on a poor review - especially when that review comes from a prestigious outlet like The New York Times. So what is it like to bear this level of responsibility - and should one person (or a very small group of people) be able to wield this much power? The answers to these questions and more are provided in a (very lengthy) article in The New Yorker about NYT restaurant reviewer Pete Wells.

When Wells first took over the job in 2012, he was often able to dine out anonymously. Now his photo hangs in restaurants across the city and waitstaff remain on the lookout for an appearance. Since his words can cause a once bustling establishment to become a veritable ghost town, it's no wonder the staff is keen to ensure that each dish is perfect and the service impeccable. When it isn't, and Wells reports on it, reputations can be tarnished and culinary empires threatened. 

Not everyone is happy that basically one person can hold a restaurant's fortune in his hands. Even Wells himself is uncomfortable with wielding that much power. He hates writing one star reviews, saying "The restaurants don't like them, and the readers don't like them. It's very tricky to explain why this place is good enough to deserve a review but not quite good enough to get up to the next level." He added, "I'm looking for places that I can be enthusiastic about. Like a golden retriever, I would like to drop a ball at the feet of the reader every week and say, 'Here!' "

While many people enjoy his column and the honesty of his reviews, he does have a few detractors. Among them is food writer Mimi Sheraton, who notes that a "lot of reviews now tend to be food features," referencing a review in which Wells discusses another person who was dining at the restaurant. Whether you agree with what Wells has to say or not, the article does provide an interesting perspective on the process and effects of restaurant criticism. 

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