What constitutes a restaurant review?

Plus: a sneak peek of the Book Bindery.

By Jessica Voelker October 7, 2010


“Back in the old days, no self-respecting restaurant reviewer would ever review a restaurant before it was at least a couple months old. Unlike a Broadway show, restaurant crews don’t get to rehearse much, if at all. If you really think about it, the very notion of an opening night review for a restaurant is ludicrous.”

That’s Sumi Almquist, part-owner of The Book Bindery, in a recent email she sent announcing the restaurant’s official opening. This is a common complaint I hear from restaurateurs regarding the flurry of reporting that surrounds an opening, just when a business is trying to find its footing. But the question I wanted to ask Almquist—who, in an interesting twist, used to work as a restaurant critic—was this: “What constitutes a review?”

So I did. And then she put the question back to me. “What do you think constitutes a review?” It’s a question I ask myself a lot, so fortunately I had an answer at the ready. “A review evaluates the food and service.” This, to me, is what distinguishes a review from a “news” piece about a restaurant. A news piece says: “Hey look y’all, it’s here.” A review says: “this is how good it is.” And yes, writing a review of a brand-new restaurant is considered a no-no for good reason. And there’s a wide world of bloggers and Yelpers and Tweeters, some of whom do not respect this long-respected rule. Should they? They’re not professional reviewers, they’re entitled to their opinions, who is anyone to tell them it’s not okay? It’s hard on new restaurants. It’s hard too on publications that adhere to the no-review-for-a-few-months rule but are still trying to compete in the current market. Ahem. But that’s the way it is.

What are you going to do? Nothing you can do.

Almquist says the restaurant (after serving a few blogger shutterbugs in its early days) is toying with the idea of banning flash photography, a la it’s-just-food-eat-it David Chang. Is it worth it? Would they actually enforce the rule? Remains to be seen, says Almquist. Meantime, enjoy these lovely provided photos from the Book Bindery; they come courtesy of Patric Gabre-Kidan.

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