Open For Criticism

by Brendan James

Luke O’Neil insists that restaurants should be subject to critics’ reviews as soon as they open, rather than enjoy the customary grace period:

Perhaps the best parallel to the restaurant industry for our purposes is the world of theater. Most plays and musicals offer previews to paying audiences to give the cast and crew a chance to work out the kinks of a production. There has been pushback against critics’ self-imposed prohibition on writing about theater previews for a while now, because previews, like delayed restaurant reviews, don’t make sense. Why shouldn’t an early performance, or meal, be subject to judgment? People are paying full price for it. Is the money of the first few hundreds or thousands of people to buy a ticket or make a reservation worth less than the people who see a play or visit a restaurant after it’s hit its stride?

There are two functions of criticism: to inform the public, and to write for writing’s sake. The latter is great—who doesn’t appreciate reading a beautiful essay about an old film or book?—but it should take a back seat to the former. A struggling new restaurant may turn into the city’s most beloved establishment after a few years, but the fact that it opened poorly is news that diners have a pressing interest in knowing today. And a place that opens immediately running on all cylinders is newsworthy as well. Withholding either piece of information out of a sense of critical noblesse oblige seems like a dereliction of duty.