Ever done any food writing or restaurant critiques?

Photo by John Bernard

Photo by John Bernard

A couple of weeks ago, we talked about travel writing on the blog. What a great response we had!

Have you ever thought about writing restaurant critiques?

Does your local paper, town newsletter, or a local or regional magazine have a food or dining section? Do they feature restaurant critiques? Read numerous restaurant critiques so you are aware of the writing style and approximate word count.

With the help of New Mexico writer Anne Hillerman, author of Spider Woman’s Daughter, I developed this checklist for restaurant critics.

Share this list with your fellow diners before going out to eat. You could even make up little cheat sheets on index cards for easy reference.

Photo by John Bernard

Photo by John Bernard


Name of restaurant, address

Party – # of people, 1st visit, 2nd visit

Who is dining?

Day, date, time

Breakfast, lunch, or dinner

Parking – ease, accessibility, pay/street/lot

Venue – downtown, suburban, mall, etc.

Greeting – host/hostess

Wait time – to be seated, get drinks, get food

Cleanliness – outside, entrance/foyer, dining area, bar, bathrooms

Wait staff – efficient, courteous, knowledge of menu, friendliness, grooming

Ambiance, décor, noise level, seating

Food – quantity, quality, presentation

Meals – type, portion, extras

Taste – bland, spicy

Value – amount vs. cost

Changes or special requests

Vegetarian, low calorie, WW, heart healthy

House specials

Photo by John Bernard

Photo by John Bernard

Owner/manager – did he/she stop by the table?

Desserts, prices, homemade or packaged

Cocktails, wine list, specialties

Credit cards accepted

Meals served, hours, for breakfast, lunch, and dinner

Daily specials – breakfast, lunch, dinner

Take-out available, full menu

Outdoor dining

Meal choice, cost (each diner gets something different)

What to use in the restaurant critique

Not all this information needs to be used in a written restaurant critique, but give prospective diners (critique readers) enough information so they can decide if this is a place they’d like to try.

Psst! Keep the secret

And key! Don’t tell the host/hostess or your servers why you are there. Do not discuss this dinner meeting with anyone who owns, manages, or works for the chosen restaurant. But do give them two chances if they fail miserably on your first visit. 

Be on time

Participants will gather at a designated meeting place or at the venue at a pre-arranged day, date, and time.

Photo by John Bernard

Photo by John Bernard


It is now quite common to see diners taking photos. Be sure to take clear photos of meals, drinks, and desserts as they arrive at the table.

Pay up

You’re going out to dinner anyway. Participants pay for their own meals plus a fair share of the tip. If the written article sells and is published for payment, the critic can reimburse the secret diner in full for the cost of the meal plus tip.


Have you ever done any food writing or restaurant critiques?

What other checklist items would you add?



Filed under Special Events

12 responses to “Ever done any food writing or restaurant critiques?

  1. Good post, Karen! I’d never thought of doing that. I did wonder at the name Anne Hillerman. I clicked on the link and sure enough, she’s the daughter of one of my favorite authors of the southwest.

    • karenrsanderson

      I have met Anne – she’s an awesome gal. I attended the Tony Hillerman Conference twice and attended a small conference at Anne’s home in Santa Fe. I also helped with her newsletter for a while. I’ve never done any restaurant reviews, but it’s always been on my back burner. I thought since I recently wrote about travel writing, I could easily segue into restaurant critiques.

  2. Our city paper has their own food writer and he puts out a good review but sometimes it seems a little dry.
    Fantastic checklist.

    • karenrsanderson

      Maybe you could suggest some ways to “funny it up” a little! Or write your own and submit. Could be the editor of that paper thinks it’s a little dry but has no other options.

  3. John steiner

    My son, Josh, writes a food column for the High Plains Reader here in Fargo. He does occasional restaurant reviews, but more often shares recipes and tips he has learned in the restaurant business. What I find most fascinating is that he lives in North Carolina. 🙂

    • karenrsanderson

      That is interesting, John! That he lives so far away but shares via a ND paper. Lesson for us all – just because you live in NC doesn’t mean you can’t write for a ND newspaper.

  4. This is a great list, Karen, and I love that it includes items relating to the experience and not just the food. I have eaten in restaurants where the food was good, but what set it apart was the wonderful experience created by the staff and ambiance.

    • karenrsanderson

      Eating out is truly an experience…and it’s not just the food. It’s so many other things… I also mention that, if the first experience is bad, you should give the venue another try. I don’t like to judge any business on just one go. The staff at any place can be the “make it or break it.”

  5. I did them for a while in Haywood county and was good at it – but, being in that small town and surrounding areas, there just weren’t that many places to eat and review, and as well, the expense got to me after a while. The paper didn’t pay much and I was barely covering expenses (gas, food, tips) — but I liked it and would love to do that again – maybe I will look into it now that I’m living in a bigger city!

    • karenrsanderson

      I haven’t done it myself, but as I mentioned, it’s been on my back burner. I’m in a relatively small city (compared to Dallas, Philadelphia, etc.), but there are a lot of restaurants in town. I might just branch out. Once I find a job that allows me to eat out! ha!

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