Coffee Rhetoric: Please sir, Can I have some more?

October 06, 2007

Please sir, Can I have some more?

I was reading Rupert Murdoch's newly acquired baby, The Wall Street Journal this afternoon and apparently bloggers are not only making waves in the realm of politics and celebrity gossip, but in food critiquing as well. The paper's Weekend Journal section and its featured article The Price of A Four Star Rating penned by Katy McLaughlin investigates the relationship between restaurateurs (many of whom have newly established eateries) and food bloggers/food forum commenters. It seems as if some popular food bloggers are heaping praise on certain restaurants, after having had their gastronomic experiences gratuitement. Restaurant owners seem to value the written opinions of the average joe restaurant patron just as much as an accredited food critic's, and so will champ at the bit to make sure their dining experience is superior. And if that means hosting a four course meal complete with free open bar privileges or a special invitation to dine gratis (the case with one restaurant patron and his family after he blogged a negative experience at Le Cirque)- so be it. One woman suggested that her free experience during an event at Chicago restaurant Dine (it spent $1,500 feeding members of one popular food site where people post reviews and ratings )-- wouldn't have been as enjoyable had she had to pick up the tab. I'm all for a free meal, a free drink, a free make-out session or a free anything for that matter. In fact, one of my favorite words is free. But can a blogger or a self-appointed online foodie offer an objective review, if their meals are being comped 80 percent of the time at the restaurant they're seeking to write about? Anybody can have an enjoyable dining experience if they don't have to pay for their Roasted halibut with walnut crust, dressed with a side of melon relish, non? Hell, if I got a bland chocolate torte at a fancy restaurant for FREE, I'd probably blog about how great the service was too. I've shared my sexy times experiences with certain products on this humble blog on numerous occasions. But these were products I purchased and thoroughly (and genuinely) enjoyed. No one offered them to me for free, in exchange for a 4-star review (hint-hint). I've also shared pictures and fun times I've had at different local eateries as well as ones I've enjoyed off-site. Because the food and service were excellent. I can understand why food critics (who are known for using discretion and a certain level of anonymity when patronizing new restaurants) -- and top chefs are put out by this sudden explosion of food blogs being the word on certain eateries. What if a popular food blogger hates Bobby Flay's guts for whatever reason (maybe he doesn't like his on-air wardrobe), and decides to post a bunch of garbage about Flay's restaurants and personal life? That can have a negative influence on other people's experience, because they may patronize any one of his establishments looking for trouble. According to the article, Celebrity chef Mario Batali posted a rant of his own, in response to a scathing blog entry, that detailed an alleged dispute he was having with one of his restaurant's landlords. He opined--
Many of the anonymous authors who vent on blogs rant their snarky vituperatives from behind the smoky curtain of the web. This allows them a peculiar and nasty vocabulary that seems to be taken as truth by virtue of the fact that it has been printed somewhere. Unfortunately, this also allows untruths, lies and malicious and personally driven dreck to be quoted as fact. Even a savvy blog like the one you are reading now has strangely superseded truly responsible journalism. It is much more immediate and can skip a lot of the ponderous setup necessary in a news article. It cuts right to the heart of a matter, often disputing it as though real research has taken place.
I tend to stay away from celebrity gossip (thousands of those blogs saturating the web already) and being a self-described expert on anything, other than my own personal tastes, likes and dislikes. I keep things self-involved and narcissistic. The internet, the blogosphere in particular, is a powerful forum that carries enough force to humiliate, defame, and hurt. People look to bloggers as authoritative voices on politics, celebrity, popular culture, movies, hot spots to be seen at, and most other types of fodder. While bloggers have gained some semblance of legitimacy, I think we are still looked at with some level of skepticism. At this juncture in BlogLand, I think we owe it to ourselves and the public to keep shit genuine, and to proceed with stealth by being thorough in researching what we say-- (unless it pertains to our own personal lives or opinions on such matters)- or to relay information as any real journalist or bastion of information would do. If you genuinely hate someplace or someone, then cite specific reasons why you do, detail your own personal and HONEST experiences, and leave it at that. When you write for shock value or to generate a high volume of readers, well the subpar sucky and fug of the writing shines through, like a rainbow does at a gay pride parade (I actually saw a real rainbow during Connecticut's Gay Pride parade this year, no lie), and peoples' bullshit-o-meter (with the fake cough, thank you very much) goes off. If a restaurant owner happens to read the ways in which you found his establishment deplorable and wants to invite you back, on the house, for a better dining experience so be it. As it should unfold... If a place sucks hard, like a prostitute on a john (free meal or not) go the route of legitimate food critics, and just be honest about it. It's the only way to authenticate your voice, your opinion, your writing in the blogosphere and beyond.