Confessions of a Weary Restaurant Critic

After a seven-year-long stint as a restaurant critic at the Charleston City Paper Robert F. Moss is bidding the profession—or at least the beat—adieu. But before pushing away from the table for the last time, Moss has penned an essay about the difficulties of eating dinner for a living. In the excerpt below, he discusses how the writing itself can grow tedious:

Writing formal reviews is difficult. And by “reviews,” I mean it in the plural form. Composing a passable review or two is challenging enough, since it takes practice to get the hang of the form. But what’s even harder is churning out one after another, month in and month out.

There are only so many ways to describe food. You become hyper-aware of your own clichés. If you’ve gotten tired of reading “lovely,” “tinged,” and “delightful” in my reviews over the past seven years, all I can say is that you should have seen the first drafts.

Then there’s how you structure a review. It’s easy to lapse into such a rote pattern that you almost fall asleep while you’re writing.

Want to pen a textbook B-grade review? Here’s the template. Start with a capsule history of the business (“A new hook-to-table seafood restaurant that opened in May in the strip mall location once home to McGrubby’s Greek Deli.”). Next, march lockstep through the food offering. (Spoiler alert: we’ll start with the appetizers, then move on to entrees, and — surprise! — finish with the desserts.). Toss in a brief description of the interior (exposed brick and brown wood, of course), then wrap it all up with a paragraph that passes final judgement on the place.

If you do it right, the gist of that final paragraph will be that “it’s the kind of place you’ll like if you like that kind of place” and “time will tell whether local diners will embrace it,” which is reviewer code for “it doesn’t totally suck, but I give it three months tops.”

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