Young and Hungry

About That “Review” Which Isn’t One

As regular readers of this blog probably recognize, Y&H offers all sorts of  food-related content. There's a morning round up of food news and commentary from around the web that I call "Last Night's Leftovers." There's a daily link to our regularly updated food events calendar. You'll also find original reporting, as well as commentary on news from other sources. Occasionally, you will see a more formal old-fashioned review of a place.

When a new restaurant opens in the District, oftentimes we'll send someone to cover it, so that you, the reader, have some idea about what to expect. This is not meant to be taken as a formal review of that restaurant. That's something else entirely. In fact, most of the content that you read here is not, in fact, a review.

I bring this up because of a comment made during Washington Post critic Tom Sietsema's weekly online chat today, which I have copied and pasted below:

Tom, I noticed that the City Paper's (new?) food critic wrote a "First Bite"-style review of the new Chez Billy in Petworth seemingly based in part on tasting hors d'oeuvres passed at a media-only event. Please tell me this is not a standard media practice.

This isn't the first time that a reader has complained about a "review" that technically isn't one. It just doesn't often happen on another publication's website. So I am compelled to respond.

The blog post in question, titled "Petworth Goes Parisienne," was written by Y&H freelance contributor Sam Hiersteiner. Sam is a talented scribe and passionate foodie. He is not a full-time critic, though he does bring a certain point of view to his pieces. His assignment in this case was simply to attend the soft-opening of a much-anticipated new eatery, Chez Billy in Petworth, and offer us a preview of what it has to offer. That's exactly what he did. He spoke to the chef about his culinary vision. He offered a description of the decor and the crowd. He even pondered about how this particular restaurant might fit into the neighborhood. He also mentioned a few of the food samples that had been passed around at the party. He duly disclosed that these morsels were complimentary, which is our policy.

Other media outlets may conveniently omit that information when they write-up an opening and post glossy photos of the food. City Paper fully discloses whatever free grub is passed our way in the course of writing any article. That's our policy. (Here's an example; 10th graph down.)

When writing a formal review, we pay our own way, as any ethical reviewer should.

Sam's post was not intended as a formal review, nor should it be taken as such.

In his own response, Sietsema spells this out rather succinctly: "It's different if a writer simply want to tell readers about a new place — give them a sense of what to expect based on an early impression."

I have tried to find ways to make this distinction more clear to readers. If anyone has suggestions, I'm happy to hear them.

Stick your thoughts in comments or email me at hungry@washingtoncitypaper.com.

Image via Shutterstock

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