Miami Herald, the Ft. Lauderdale Sun-Sentinel
Writing Your Restaurant Review
Your assignment is to read sample restaurant reviews from the Miami Herald, the Ft. Lauderdale Sun-Sentinel, and the New Times, and then write your own review of an area restaurant.
Here are some elements required in any good restaurant review:
Title of review
Name of establishment being reviewed
Location of the establishment
Phone number of the establishment
Type of establishment (i.e. Italian, steakhouse, deli, etc.)
Audience (i.e. early bird, families, date spot, etc.)
What’s on the menu?
Quality (dry, soggy, undercooked, burnt, overall taste, etc.)?
Quantity (large, small, etc.)?
Do they check back with you frequently?
An overall rating?
Here are some other questions you might ask, to gather information for your review:
When was the restaurant first opened?
Who owns the restaurant?
Who is the chef?
What’s the chef’s training?
Do you need to make reservations?
How far in advance should those be made?
Decorations (paintings, plants, etc.)?
Entertainment (live bands, live alligators, live television, etc.)?
It’s About the Writing, Too!
Once you have all the basic information collected, you have to write a review that is interesting and engaging to the reader. If you bore your reader in the first paragraph, or demonstrate bad grammar or poor writing style, no one will learn what you really think about this restaurant.
Other Things to Consider
Here are some things to consider as you begin writing:
Audience: Readers of the review want to know whether or not they should go to this restaurant, so they will not want to just hear your opinion of it, they want to feel like they’ve experienced the restaurant themselves. This plays out in several aspects of the review. A student newspaper, a vegetarian newsletter, and a major metropolitan publication may have overlapping readers, but the readers’ priorities for choosing a restaurant change with each.
Thesis: the idea of a thesis statement in an academic paper“direct, clear, and positioned according to a specific expectation“is gone here. While most reviews do yield up some statement that might be considered a thesis, it may appear anywhere, or it may be more metaphorically phrased. The central evaluation is instead cumulative, building and changing as each element is reviewed.
Organization: Almost all reviews are structured chronologically, mimicking as best as possible the experience of choosing, entering, dining, paying, and considering another visit. They frequently start with the chef’s experience, or what used to be in this space, or the neighborhood, or how long this restaurant has been around. They then take you through getting reservations, or checking out the facade, then welcome you to the ambience: music, decor, lighting, crowd, etc. They may discuss the service, if it is remarkable at this stage, or they’ll jump into the menu“appetizers, entrees (at which point the wine list may come up), and desserts. These elements may be considered for price, value, presentation, preparation, freshness, variety, originality, or conceptualization (does cocoa make a good seasoning for venison? for example). The food must comprise the bulk of the review, at least half of the word-count. Other meals served“lunch, brunch, or special events“may come up, and the entire bill may be at issue, and then a wrap-up brings it all together, just like we all do when walking out of a restaurant for the first time. (œWell, that was good! œY’think? I didn’t think it was worth the price etc.) Usually, when done well, the wrap up is stylish, and yet fairly clear in its evaluation of the restaurant.
Evidence: Details are as concrete as possible, always relying on a tactile sensation or a specific flavor over empty adjectives like œdelicious, œamazing, or œsavory. When possible, cite as many prominent ingredients as possible. This way, the audience feels like they know the dish, instead of simply relying on your taste, which we all know is subjective.
Your taste: While it is indeed subjective, it appears more through your framing of the details (Is foie gras smooth and velvety, or mushy and slimy?) than through simple evaluations.
Style: The best reviews show just a little of the personality of the reviewer“personal favorites might come up, and a bit of writerly flair often go over well in moderation. But this is not the place to make your words go off like fireworks. James Joyce would’ve been a horrible food reviewer.
Narrative: Avoid telling a story that does not relate to the experience of the restaurant. If your car broke down on the way there, that’s not relevant“ unless, of course, the chef gave you a lift and talked about his or her cooking on the way.
Tense: To accomplish the effects descibed above, describe the restaurant in the present tense, reserving past tense only to narrate those rare experiences when you as a reviewer become visible.
Sentence subjects: use either direct second-person address, (œYou enter into . . .), or put the details of the restaurant as the subject, which often requires passive voice (The shrimp is prepared in a . . .).
Sentence Structure: Avoid both overly short sentences, as they make the review, and therefore the experience, feel rushed. But similarly avoid overly complex constructions that convoulte he central idea, two or three clauses per sentence maximum.
Pronouns: when possible, avoid pronoun use, particularly the impulse to call the restaurant and its staff œthey, or to refer to an item of food as œit. With all of the details flying about, these pronouns easily lose their antecedents